Afghanistan and Taliban negotiators have sat around the table in Qatari capital of Doha for the second time to find a settlement for the conflict. The two sides, which reached an agreement about the procedure in the first round, had consulted their leaderships – the Afghan peace delegation consulted the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) in Kabul and the Taliban negotiators led by Mullah Ghani Baradar visited their leaders and militant fighters in Pakistan.
For Afghanistan, ceasefire and reduction in violence is on the top list of the agenda and the Taliban prefer to talk about the formation of the future system first. Meanwhile, Afghan ordinary people as well as regional and international stakeholders have also called for immediate ceasefire. The United States also urges for ceasefire and an end to civilian casualties. In short, the escalated insurgency, leading to heavy fatality toll, is highly concerning for the people of Afghanistan and human rights organizations.
However, political pundits air their concerns over two issues likely to hamper the efforts for peace. First, they believe that a consensus was not formed between the government on the one side and HCNR and political factions on the other side. Political parties are likely to agree with formation of “interim government”, making headlines on national media recently. Nonetheless, the Kabul administration persists on maintaining the existing administration and not willing to put the formation of interim government at the table. The government expects people to support the current administration.
However, an Afghan negotiator Abdul Hafiz Mansoor said that all sides, including political figures, negotiators, HCNR and Presidential Palace agreed on preservation of Islamic republic system.
Second, there seems a gap between the Taliban political leadership and military commanders. Division within the Taliban, from hardline commanders to political negotiators in Doha’s hotels, is feared to hamper the peace process. Some Taliban factions believe they should fight and defeat the Americans and the Afghan government, not negotiate with them.
Last month, Reuters quoted “Taliban political sources” saying, “Our field commanders started carrying out more attacks and it created problems for our office in Qatar; therefore our delegation would like to see them and discuss it with them. … [We] would not request attacks stop entirely but explain the problems and suggest they slow.”
A ten-minute video clip shared on social media, on 22 December, shows Mullah Baradar speaking to a crowd in Karachi, Pakistan, including wounded fighters being treated there. In a rare admittance, Baradar confirmed that “all our leadership and elders are also based and operate from here, which is [evidence of] the support and value that Pakistan affords us.” He also praised the “sacrifices of you mujahedin” that had made it possible for “the world’s most arrogant power to sit [at the table] with us.” He assured the gathering that the Taliban negotiating team would preserve “the ideals of our martyrs, our injured, our ordinary people and our nation” and not bargain away the “hardships you have endured.” He added that they had shared all aspects of the talks in Doha with the “leadership”.
It signifies that Baradar sought to bridge the gap between the Taliban leadership and militant fighters and persuade their military commanders and rank and file to reduce violence, leading to leading to ceasefire. Under pubic pressures, international calls and clerics’ strong condemnation of the war, the Taliban will prepare for reduction in violence.
If the two sides reach a ceasefire agreement in the latest round of talks in Doha, it will be a great achievement in the eye of Afghan people. But if the Taliban still refuse to declare ceasefire, the sense of mistrust and disappointment will increase in the air and Afghans will lose their hope in the process and further doubt the intention of the Taliban for wanting peace.
With strong clerics’ condemnation of Taliban’s escalated insurgency, resulting in heavy casualties of Afghan combatants and non-combatants, and revelation of their intention by members of the republic negotiating team, the Taliban are likely to fear the outcome and will reduce their violence. For example, a republic negotiator Abdul Hafiz Mansoor revealed few days back that the Taliban did not have religious dilemma to put at the table in the latest round of talks but sought division of power, which carried the most significance for them. Meanwhile, he said that the Taliban’s ideology towards democracy and human rights discourse was not moderated. The Taliban may fear the consequences of such revelations and clerics’ condemnation of their violence, which will finally spark public reaction against the group.
To move the peace process forward, the Taliban leadership has to persuade its military commanders, including their rank and file, to de-intensify their violence so as to pave the ground for national ceasefire and agreement.
Afghan officials and political figures have to reach consensus and make unanimous decisions vis-à-vis peace issues. Diverse views and statements and political disagreement will slow down the process and compound the challenges.