Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, April 19th, 2021

The Ifs and Buts of Peace Talks

The intra-Afghan dialogue began with much fanfare in Doha, the capital of Qatar, but no breakthrough has been made since the negotiating sides are at loggerheads over the issue of ceasefire, reduction of violence, and the republic system. Diplomatic etiquette quickly gave way to acrimonious media statements and political rhetoric. Supporters of the republic insist that the Taliban came to the table with no genuine intention as they intensified their attacks against Afghan combatants and non-combatants. Earlier, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban group had no religious justification for its war and was suffering from a false perception of being the victors.
The Taliban group has insisted that the Doha Agreement between the United States and the group should be referenced as the basis for negotiations. The agreement neither asked the Taliban to renounce violence or terrorism nor has it demanded recognition of the Afghan government.
Addressing the Herat Security Dialogue on Friday, First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, however, said, “We did not recognize the US-Taliban agreement. We said we take note of it. We are not a signatory to the Doha Agreement.” He added the group was seeking concessions at the negotiating table by escalating militancy in the country.
The Taliban outfit has ramped up violence as a means of military pressure to extract concessions at the table. The Taliban group did the unthinkable. It intensified its attacks against the Afghan civilians as reports show that the group is largely involved in civilian fatalities, including women and children. The group has consistently avoided denying or confirming whether a gradual reduction of violence was a condition agreed on in the Doha talks, or just a verbal promise between the group and the US.
Considering the ongoing escalated militancy, former US Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, opposed the hasty withdrawal of US forces from the country as he sent a memo to the White House before he was fired by President Donald Trump. He warned about possible dangers to the remaining troops in the event of a rapid pullout, potential damage to the alliances and apprehension about undermining the peace process.
It is also said that France would ask the US not to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan and Iraq.
There are two undeniable facts about the peace process. First, the Taliban have capitalized on the process as their leaders were delisted from the UN blacklist, their international recognition increased, their prisoners were released, and the Trump administration accepted to withdraw the US soldiers. However, the Taliban did not honor their agreement with Washington as they are said to maintain their ties with al-Qaeda and refused to reduce violence or declare a permanent ceasefire. Worst, they intensified their attacks against Afghan soldiers and civilians contrary to the constant calls of the public for peace and reconciliation as well as reduction in violence.
Second, the peace process is fragile. The Taliban’s escalated militancy and violation of their agreement are likely to derail the peace talks. In other words, if the Taliban continue spilling the blood of Afghan combatants and non-combatants, haggle over their conditions, and seek to impose their will on the people, talks will reach deadlock.
The ongoing increased violence and large human fatalities clearly show the Taliban’s lukewarm response to peace and reconciliation. The Taliban have to sit across from the government negotiating team with genuine intention and stop playing a foul game at the table.
Afghans are highly frustrated with the ongoing insurgency and the air is filled with disappointment. They called on the Taliban on multiple occasions to declare ceasefire. Meanwhile, Afghan clerics also urged the Taliban to stop killing people saying that their insurgency have no religious justification and their acts of violence are against Islamic tenets, which fell on the Taliban’s deaf ears.
A hasty troop pullout, despite the Taliban’s violation of Doha Agreement and escalated insurgency, is likely to generate further political upheaval and push Afghanistan to civil unrest. The US future administration has to pressure the Taliban to honor their deal and declare a permanent ceasefire or else it has to review the US-Taliban peace agreement.
Meanwhile, regional and global stakeholders have to put pressure on the Taliban to reach an agreement – acceptable to the people of Afghanistan – with the Ghani administration. They should use their leverage on the group and put their weight behind the peace process. If talks are derailed, insurgency will increase, which is in the interest of no party.