THE peace process in Afghanistan was never going to be a smooth affair. This was something that even the most optimistic of observers had noted when reports emerged that the Afghan Taliban were negotiating with the Americans to strike a deal in the war-torn country. Sure enough, even though a deal was signed between the Taliban and the US in Doha at the end of February, implementation of some of the agreement’s key points has been quite tricky. Take, for example, the prisoner swap mechanism between the Taliban and the Afghan government. It had been decided in principle that both sides would release each other’s detainees as a confidence-building measure. Kabul is said to be holding around 5,000 Taliban fighters, while close to 1,000 government men are in the insurgents’ custody. Late on Tuesday, the Taliban spokesman tweeted that his side would not participate in “fruitless meetings” with the Afghan government as the release of Taliban prisoners was being “delayed”. As per reports in the media, Kabul is willing to release a few hundred low-level Taliban fighters, but the militia wants some of its top ‘commanders’ to be included in the deal.
Clearly, this is a major stumbling block. If not addressed, it can derail the entire peace process. The Taliban should realise that if talks fail, it would be back to the battlefield, meaning more of the same bloodshed that has been Afghanistan’s fate for the past few decades. That is why both the Taliban and the Kabul government must reach some sort of compromise where the exchange of prisoners is concerned, so that the next phase of the peace process can be initiated. Sticking to maximalist positions will benefit no one and will only further complicate the deadlock. The gulf of mistrust between Kabul and the militant group is wide and deep. Therefore, out-of-the-box solutions are needed for peace to succeed. If the talks fail, the unfortunate people of Afghanistan must prepare for another prolonged season of violence.
Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2020