Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, October 29th, 2020

THE INTRA – AFGHAN PEACE TALKS _ The Hurdles, Prospects and Challenges Ahead

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THE INTRA – AFGHAN PEACE TALKS _ The Hurdles, Prospects and Challenges Ahead

Diplomatic discourse and negotiations eventually decide the fate of even greater wars and political disputes. The Afghan enduring crisis cannot be an exception; there is an urgent need for cessation of violence and a total halt on this ongoing stalemate, demanding sincere conviction on both warring sides; the Taliban and the Afghan government. Ultimately, any presumptive peace talks should enjoy support from both the conservative and liberal segments of the society. The Intra - Afghan dialogue was initially planned to start within days from the Consultative Loya Jirga, endorsing the release of the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners, (4,600 prisoners previously freed based on U.S. Taliban accord in Feb 2019 ); individuals convicted of heinous murders and high profile killing of locals and foreigners alike. The talks meant to start in three days, but now postponed indefinitely over continued prisoner dispute and concerns voiced by president Ghani’s some foreign allies.
The price tag associated with this unpopular fight has been unimaginable for Afghanistan: In reality, the Taliban and the Afghan government are merely a pawn in the greater picture of this hegemonic rivalry between regional foes and transnational adversaries. The natural tendency concerning diverse economic and political interests among these stakeholders is to use conflict ridden and chaotic states as a dumping ground for hazardous waste and a venue of testing weapons of mass destruction to intimidate a de facto adversary with absolutely no respect for its public safety and national sovereignty.
It is understandable that the complexity surrounding the Afghan tragedy cannot heal overnight, thus it demands tireless reconciliatory efforts and compromises as the presumptive Intra-Afghan dialogue presumes. Taliban fighters have not shown any cessation of violence on the battlefield, conversely the number of attacks on Afghan military and civilian targets have tremendously increased post the Doha accord between the U.S. and Taliban.  In reality, the group has asserted a harsher maximum pressure campaign militarily, simultaneously talking about peace as a side dish.  For now, the underlying policy within the Taliban is to remain steadfast on deliverables agreed with the Americans in ceasing attacks on foreign military troops and installations.
The resident political office representing Taliban in Doha is adamant in engaging with all political parties including the Afghan government, (Kabul regime as they refer to) in a comprehensive peace dialogue, contingent to the immediate release of the remaining prisoners in no time. The group persists on its fundamental opposition that of its denial of the Afghan state as the principle party to any future peace talks, rather prefers engagement with influential political leaders and parties instead. However, the Afghan government strongly opposes this offer and reiterates on its principle role for any further progress on the stalled talks. The core challenges and the abundance of issues require comprehensive discussions on actual dialogue forum, turning the peace making process both lengthy and full of bumps. The political office in Doha representing Taliban has repeatedly expressed a rather firm stance on a fundamental socio-political makeover in any prospective joint venture with the Afghan side. The issue of preserving the Islamic stature of governance, women’s rights, judicial reforms and status of the Afghan security forces will ultimately decide the fate of this presumptive peace talks in making.
Taliban propagate ending this conflict through strength and intimidation, therefore increasing military offenses and territorial advances as a strategy. The plan is to score an indispensible influence on the negotiating table with the Afghan delegation, and turn the odds in their favor in any subsequent agreements on Afghanistan’s future governance and external dealings. It is worth mentioning that In spite of all the challenges and ugly portrayal of Afghanistan, the country has transformed immensely in many spectrums since 2001. Afghan millennials have no actual recall of the Taliban era, with mere stories heard from senior family members and visual memories from atrocities committed by the group since 2002. This largest demographic reality is well - connected with the outside world and certainly has its own say when it comes to preserving its basic human rights, and practicing its constitutional liberties in any futuristic peace dialogue as a formidable force to reckon with.
The Afghan government in spite of its uncanny chemistry with its chief political shareholder Abdullah and major policy critics has so far propelled a shared consensus in safeguarding achievements since 2001. The big unknown still is the very much talked about hidden arrangements in U.S. Taliban agreement in Doha. It is widely believed that the Taliban have received assurances on unilateral domination and the principle decision making authority in any future interim set up, meeting distaste and disapproval from both the Afghan president and civil society. The Afghan peace negotiators can provide concessions on many things but changes in the Afghan National Defense forces’ intrinsic mandates and overall operative guidelines. The preservation of this national pride and guardians of national unity shall not be up for any bargaining with the insurgents. The Afghan government already took a huge gamble in releasing an unprecedented number of Taliban prisoners while not demanding the same on ANDF captives in Taliban’s custody. The Afghan government has already shown an irreversible gesture in unconditionally releasing these prisoners in luring the group to sit with its officials and end this crisis.
One of the theories pertaining to Taliban’s authenticity in adhering to peaceful dialogue and ceding armed resistance is rather blurry and likely mischievous.  The proponents of this theory argue that the group has no genuine intentions in a peaceful transition, any such arrangement means losing relevance in political equations in a stable Afghan setup. The group managing to free a sizable portion of its fighters from Afghan captivity is staging a gimmick to outmaneuver Afghan armed forces militarily and run over the Afghan state with foreign forces long gone.
It is an apparent fact that the key to Afghan peace heavily lies with Pakistani generals and intelligence agencies. Pakistan cannot afford withstanding two hostile neighbors on its eastern and northern neighborhoods. Meanwhile, a peaceful stable Afghanistan will further deepen the economic crisis in Pakistan, already suffering from defaulting on foreign loans and declining foreign exchange reserves.  Afghan migrants contribute exponentially in its economy that includes remittances, real-state rentals and a tangible number of small and medium sized businesses owned by resident Afghans. Therefore, Pakistan demands assurances from the Taliban on extension of cooperation and preventing the government in Kabul from any hostile movements aimed at its interests and sovereignty. The rapidly changing dynamics in the region demands a political settlement in Afghanistan. China the major economic power in the region, is the principle benefactor and the prime beneficiary in a gradually stabling Afghanistan. China Silk Road Initiative, CPEC and recently inked historic deal with Iran, greatly depends on sustainable security in Afghanistan. The friend for all season status to Pakistan and its running mega projects in the country gives China the auspices to make the Pakistani military give up a strategic depth policy on Afghanistan and use its exclusive leverage on Taliban for a negotiated settlement with the Afghan government.
On the other hand, the rising threat of Daesh in the region with glimpses from Afghanistan is an imminent national security concern for surrounding and distant regional powers. Russia and Iran are extremely wary of its growing footprints adjacent with de facto boundaries. For this matter, both Moscow and Tehran have established contacts with the Taliban to encounter this menace within any future Afghan power sharing setup. The United States under president Trump is more than willing to proceed in fulfilling its undertaking on drawing down its military presence and using the opportunity as a major political triumph for his re-election campaign in November.   

Naser Koshan

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