Taliban-US talks

Updated January 29, 2019

Email

AT this point, the situation where peace talks between the US government and the Afghan Taliban are concerned remains fluid.

After a series of marathon parleys lasting several days between Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s point man on Afghanistan, and representatives of the Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha, the outlines of a possible peace deal between the US and the Afghan militia are emerging, though the details are not known.

While the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo termed the development “encouraging news”, the Taliban were more circumspect, saying nothing was final. Of course, in international diplomacy such posturing is natural, as stakeholders often release statements for public consumption, yet take a different line behind closed doors at the negotiating table until a final deal is reached.

Mr Khalilzad has also briefed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the developments. The Taliban, on their part, have dismissed calls for talking directly to Kabul, terming Mr Ghani’s setup as ‘powerless’, and, instead, choosing to talk directly to the Americans.

While genuine peace in Afghanistan may still be far off, the developments are encouraging considering the country’s troubled modern history, especially the last 40 years of near-constant war and political upheaval.

Related: How Pakistan can help with the Afghan peace process

Indeed, the Soviet invasion, the subsequent Afghan ‘jihad’, the era of the warlords and, thereafter, the US invasion and Taliban response have all played a part in destabilising Afghanistan and preventing the formation of a functional modern state.

However, after sustained US failure at nation-building post-2001, it appears that the Trump administration is in a hurry to bring its troops back, while evidently the Taliban would also like to conclude the nearly two decades of constant fighting and bloodshed.

Take a look: Endgame in Afghanistan

The peace efforts need to be encouraged by the international community as well as regional states; all must play their part to ensure a peaceful and democratic future for Afghanistan.

Where the Taliban are concerned, their key demand is a timetable detailing when American troops will leave their country. On the American side, Washington wants assurances that Afghan soil will not be used for international terrorism by Al Qaeda and similar outfits.

In between these two major demands, the finer details need to be worked out — specifically the role of the Afghan government in the whole process. While the Taliban may have dismissed any role for Kabul, they need to shed this rigid stance and work with the Ghani government to reach a negotiated settlement.

The way to lasting Afghan peace is long and winding. However, all three sides — the Afghan government, the Taliban and the US — must agree to a roadmap while some basic guarantees are needed, especially from the Taliban, regarding the protection of fundamental rights and basic freedoms in a post-war Afghanistan, as well as a pledge to prevent transnational terror groups, such as the militant Islamic State group, from using Afghanistan as a base for their activities.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2019