Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, November 15th, 2018

Invitations of Peace Talks to Taliban

As the prospects of peace and tranquility remain distant from Afghanistan, Afghan government seems confused as how to deal with the situation. Currently, it has only one slogan that it keeps on repeating and that is calling Taliban for peace talks, which seems to fall on deaf ears. In fact, it seems to be repeating the gesture that used to be shown by previous Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who used to call Taliban ‘brothers’ and used to invite them for talks but did not seem to have any strategy to further the peace process with them. Taliban, like they were during Karzai’s era, do not appear interested in these calls as they have kept on insisting for direct talks with the United States (US). National Unity Government (NUG) under the leadership of President Ashraf Ghani, however, seems to check all possibilities that can somehow provide an opportunity for direct talks with Taliban.
On Saturday, November 04, talking in a meeting with religious scholars and tribal elders in Paktia province, President Ghani, once again invited Taliban to ‘participate in intra-Afghan peace talks’. He also emphasized that a consensus exists for peace, and the Islamic world and region is prepared for reconciliation. President Ghani once again called on Taliban group to participate in intra-Afghan peace talks, emphasizing that a consensus exists for peace and the Islamic world and region is prepared for reconciliation. He also remarked that Afghanistan will not hand over the authority of reconciliation efforts to outsiders.
It is interesting to see how Taliban would respond to the open invitations of talks by President Ghani. Previously, they had made clear that they would only talk with Afghan government after the foreign troops leave the country completely. With the US in Afghanistan, Taliban argued that they would only talk to them, because the authority would lie with them not the Afghan government. On many occasions, Taliban have termed Afghan government as a ‘puppet government’.
On the other hand, they have kept their violence continue. During the parliamentary elections, they targeted innocent civilians and tried their best to disrupt elections. They seem to realize that they may have some leverage in talks if they continue their violence, since they have been able to gain ground as well. A recent report by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) – SIGAR’s 41st quarterly report on the status of reconstruction in Afghanistan to the US Congress – showed that Afghan government’s control and influence of districts is at lowest level (55.5%) since the institution began tracking in November 2015.
SIGAR also stated in its report that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) had 312,328 personnel in July 2018 (not including civilians), down 1,914 personnel since last quarter and down 8,827 personnel since the same period last year.
The report said Afghan forces “made minimal or no progress in pressuring the Taliban over the quarter” and “failed to gain greater control or influence over districts, population and territory this quarter”.
SIGAR’s report also highlighted several “discouraging developments” over the past few months, including the Taliban’s rejection of a second ceasefire and its five-day siege on Ghazni. It also cited last month’s attack in Kandahar that killed the regional police and intelligence chiefs.
With the control of 45% of the districts slipping away from the Afghan government, it is hard to see that Taliban would readily agree to peace talks with Afghan government. It is also a fact that the control that Afghan government seems to exercise is because of the support of the United States. Moreover, Taliban seem to be more reliant on their Qatar office for peace talks. Currently, Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said that the five members of Taliban who were freed from the US prison in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for captured American Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have joined the Taliban office in Qatar, and they will be among the Taliban representatives negotiating for peace in Afghanistan.
It is important to see how Afghan government would react to this development. It has kept on emphasizing that any peace negotiations with Taliban must include Afghan government; however, it is possible that in the initial stages when Taliban are not ready to accept Afghan government, it is possible that Washington may seek ways to negotiate with them and, later on, include Afghan government representatives.
Afghan government must ensure that its representatives include all the stakeholders – particularly, representatives from different ethnic groups. Moreover, it must also ensure that the concerns of regional countries are also addressed. Neglecting the concerns of regional countries may give rise to misunderstandings and ambiguities among the neighboring countries and that cannot be helpful in acquiring lasting peace in the country. Though Afghanistan has to keep its interests as top priority, neglecting different stakeholders and the regional countries in order to achieve quick fixes will not help solve the complex nature of the conflict in Afghanistan.