EVER since they were dislodged by the American invasion of their country in 2001, the Afghan Taliban have refused to recognise the Western-supported government in Kabul. In fact, their attitude towards the Afghan government has been derisive, and they have termed the administration foreign ‘puppets’. However, that rigid attitude seems to be changing, if slowly and cautiously. On Wednesday, representatives of both the Afghan government and the Taliban agreed to take negotiations further in the Qatari capital Doha, where parleys have been continuing since September. While the Taliban and the Americans had signed a peace deal in February, it was clear to all that harmony in Afghanistan would not be possible unless the government, the Taliban and other major stakeholders talked to each other and reached an accord. Now, it seems there is some solid progress in that direction. Senior Afghan leader Dr Abdullah has termed it an “initial major step” while Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s point man for Afghanistan, has called the development “significant”.
In the complicated world of Afghan politics and peacemaking, even seemingly minor progress such as this carries weight. After all, that unfortunate country has been witnessing over four decades of tumult, and any development that augurs well for peace should be welcomed. Of course, the Americans have pushed the process, as bringing back US troops from Afghanistan has been one of the Trump administration’s key foreign policy goals. In this regard, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Doha last month and met both Afghan government and Taliban representatives. Pakistan has also welcomed the news of further talks between both sides as “an important development”. While the input of the country’s neighbours, as well as that of foreign forces involved in the country’s internal affairs — such as the US — is important, the fact remains that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the primary interest of the Afghan people themselves. And this is what the rulers in Kabul and the Taliban leadership must realise. For decades, the country has been a playground for superpowers and foreign forces playing new versions of the Great Game on its soil. Moreover, greedy, corrupt local warlords, religious fanatics and short-sighted politicians have also added to the mess thus preventing a functional political system from taking root. The future is now in the hands of the Afghan administration and the Taliban: either talk peace, or continue the endless cycle of violence.
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2020