IN the backdrop of the postponed Istanbul peace talks on Afghanistan — put off for the time being because the Afghan Taliban refused to attend — the foreign ministers of Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan have issued a call to the armed group not to let this opportunity pass them by.

Speaking under the banner of the ‘Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan trilateral,’ the trio called on all parties, “in particular the Taliban” to reaffirm their commitment to the peace process. The Taliban had said they would not be participating in the Istanbul meeting, which was scheduled for this month, until all foreign forces leave their country, referring to the American decision to delay the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan till September. The Turkish foreign minister said the meeting would likely be convened after Eid.

The fact of the matter is that the Taliban are an integral part of the Afghan puzzle, and without their participation the peace process is unlikely to succeed. The Western-backed government in Kabul, supported by Nato’s firepower, has tried to defeat the militia for decades militarily, and has not achieved encouraging results. Therefore, the only way out of the Afghan quagmire is a negotiated settlement in which all stakeholders — political, tribal, ethnic, religious — have representation. However, the Taliban must realise that while they have managed to survive for around 20 years, a war without an end will do little to pull their people out of misery and poverty. Even more virulent actors, such as the local chapter of the militant Islamic State group, are ready to grab ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan to implement their violent agendas. Therefore, to end the ‘forever war’, Afghan stakeholders need to show vision and maturity.

As has been suggested previously in these columns, other regional Muslim states must support Pakistan’s and Turkey’s efforts to convince the Taliban to attend the Istanbul peace process. Moreover, the three foreign ministers in their statement reiterated the need for an immediate ceasefire to create “a conducive atmosphere” for peace parleys, while they also deplored the high level of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

From here on, the burden is on the Taliban: they can either prolong the decades-long Afghan nightmare, or they can choose to participate in the peace process and arrive at a compromise with their rivals to help usher in an era of stability in their country. Foreign adventurers — from the Soviets to the Americans — have played a major role in destabilising Afghanistan. But now it is for the main Afghan players, specifically the government in Kabul and the Taliban, to take responsibility for their country and help start the process of rebuilding. If whatever little semblance of order that remains in Afghanistan collapses, the worst sufferers will be the people of that country who have watched a variety of local and foreign actors play violent power games in their beleaguered land.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2021

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