Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, February 25th, 2021

Second Round of Talks Likely to be Lengthy and Contentious

The latest round of the intra-Afghan dialogue, ongoing in Doha, is likely to be lengthy and contentious. There are contradictory remarks. Negotiators appear optimistic about the outcome, but political pundits predict a cul-de-sac in the process. Despite being averse to accept the proposal for declaration of ceasefire, the Taliban still utter their sincerity in the negotiations.
A roadmap for post-war Afghanistan, a nationwide ceasefire and disarmament of the Taliban and other armed groups were part of the agenda of second round of talks which opened on Tuesday.
However, the Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Hakim and the head of the Taliban office in Qatar, Mullah Baradar, have not yet returned from their trip to Pakistan, which indicates that the Taliban do not have genuine intention for peace.
There are three main obstacles to peace process: First, the growing rift between the Taliban leadership and their military commanders, including their rank and file. Second, the trust deficit between a number of Afghan heavyweight politicians and officials. Third, contradictory demands of the negotiating sides.
Political analyst Ahmad Saeedi talked of “deep rifts” within the Taliban group. He noted that the Taliban proposed Abdul Hakim to dismiss Mullah Khairullah Khairkhah and Mullah Fazel from the negotiating team.
He added that Hakim and Baradar had not returned to Doha to signal their aversion to Afghanistan’s persistence on “the republic system” as they heard from the media.
Saeedi believes that intra-Afghan dialogue will reach a deadlock as the negotiating sides are unlikely to backtrack on their demands. According to him, Afghanistan’s red-line included: ceasefire, preservation of the republic system, and transition of power through elections.
On the other hand, the Taliban persist on four issues, stipulated in the US-Taliban Doha agreement: Complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan; release of Taliban’s fighters imprisoned by the Afghan forces; start of intra-Afghan dialogue; and discussion on Afghanistan’s political system. He maintained that the Taliban would agree on ceasefire in return for discussing Afghanistan’s post-deal administration.
Worst, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has reportedly met with Afghan politicians, including former Balkh Governor Ata Mohammad Noor, former Vice President Younus Qanooni, and leader of Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan Party Salahuddin Rabbani in Dubai, and had a telephone conversation with leader of Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to discuss formation of interim government. Noor, Rabbani and Hekmatyar had earlier voiced their support to establishment of interim government. Meeting opposition leaders to discuss the future of Afghanistan indicates that Khalilzad flagrantly interferes in the dialogue and violates the country’s sovereignty. Khalilzad’s move will widen the gap between officials and political figures and likely to derail the peace talks. His unilateral action will also put the US-Afghan relations at stake and trigger public anger against Washington. He must not step out of line and stop his disruptive engagement in the process. 
Nonetheless, The US chargé d’affaires in Kabul Ross Wilson tweeted, “We have not advocated, and the US is not advocating, an interim government. The outcomes of Afghanistan peace negotiations are up to Afghans and we believe those outcomes should reflect the wishes and aspirations of the Afghan people.” Wilson also said that he discussed with Khalilzad and “will continue to talk with Afghans about the need to accelerate the talks in Doha….”
The Taliban seek formation of a “pure Islamic system”, which is ambiguous. But it could mean forming a system based on Sharia law and opinion of Islamic Council, consisting of a group of religious clerics, and shifting foundation of legitimacy from the public to a council of clerics, which will be irreconcilable with democracy.
Generally speaking, Afghan men and women are apprehensive about the system the Taliban are bringing forward. They believe that the Taliban seek to tailor the system to their parochial mindset and radical ideology in one way or another.
Overall, it is believed that Afghanistan negotiators and the people persist on preservation of Constitution’s framework and all amendments, if supposed to be made, should be in the framework of the Constitution and the republic system. On the contrary, the Taliban seek to impose the framework of their ideological principles or Sharia Law, based on their interpretation, instead of being integrated into a republic system. Hence, it will be a bone of contention between the two sides. With this in mind, the Taliban will bargain over this issue at the table and the talks will be lengthy, tough, and controversial.
National and international consensus needs to be formed for pushing the process forward. Meanwhile, the Taliban leadership has to persuade their military commanders and rank and file to stop violence and bloodshed.
Furthermore, Khalilzad has to stop widening the gap between Afghan officials and political figures and try not to outrage the nation. The US-Taliban peace accord, Khalilzad signed with Baradar in late February, did not lead to mitigation of violence. Now Khalilzad does not have the authority to interfere in the internal issues of the country and will, only, be appreciated if he supports the talks to the extent that Afghan nation and state accept.