Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, May 31st, 2020

The Taliban are not Trustworthy Negotiators

The US-Taliban peace talks will be a pyrrhic victory for Afghan nation rather than “diplomatic victory”, as Pakistan’s Qureshi described the six-day talks between US diplomats and the Taliban in Qatar, since democratic principles and women’s rights – entered in Constitution following the post-Taliban regime – are at stake.
In the Moscow talks, held between the Taliban and Afghan political heavyweights without the presence of Kabul’s envoy, heads of the Taliban delegation Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai reiterated that they “want an Islamic Constitution”. The Taliban also said it did not want a “monopoly of power” but “an inclusive Islamic system”.
With the establishment of Afghan Constitution Commission under the Bonn Agreement, Afghanistan’s Constitution was drafted and then adopted by the Loya Jirga (Grand National Assembly) on 4 January 2004. This Constitution, which adheres to the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has come in for the Taliban’s disapproval.
With this in mind, Afghans fear that the Taliban are likely to curtail the rights and freedoms of women similar to that during their regime (1996-2001) and push for a patriarchal system.
To allay the public concerns, however, Muhammad Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman from the Taliban delegation in the first round of Moscow meeting, said that the Taliban were “ready to give women all the rights that exist in Islam”, which include “education”, “work” and “property” on condition that they “observe wearing the veil”.
Nonetheless, there is a trust deficit between Afghan and US officials on the one side and the Taliban on the other side. In turn, Ryan Crocker, the former US ambassador to Afghanistan, is cited as saying, “If we withdraw as we’re talking about in an 18-month timeline, you will simply see the Taliban move in and retake the country. We’ve seen this before, at the Paris peace talks with Vietnam.”
One likened the US-Taliban framework agreement to the negotiated exit of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan under the cover of the 1988 Geneva Accords, which failed to bring peace to the country, and called the agreement on withdrawal of US troops “sheer naiveté”.
It is believed that mistrust is generated by the Taliban’s intensified attacks. Notwithstanding the peace talks, the Taliban outfit continues its offensive against Afghan soldiers and civilians and refuse to hold talks with Kabul government. In other words, the Taliban’s bargaining for higher price and their heavy attacks leave little room for trust. Thus, the idea of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate return fills the air with fear and disappointment in Afghanistan.
The Taliban had demanded the lifting of sanctions against the group’s leaders, release of prisoners, recognition of their office in Qatar, withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, establishment an Islamic system, and amendment to the Constitution. In return, they have agreed not to allow international terrorists to use Afghan territory for staging attacks against any countries, including the US, not to monopolize the power, and sanction women to exercise their rights and freedoms in the frame of Islamic law.
I believe that peace talks will bear the desired result if the Taliban are pushed to the negotiating table with Kabul government. If the Taliban are pressured militarily, they will succumb to talks with the government. An “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned” peace process is also trustworthy for Afghan people. Above all, if the Taliban and their interlocutors reach a consensus, it has to be acceptable to Afghan state and nation. Hence, the talks will not come to fruition if the Afghan government is sidelined.
It is most likely that the Taliban refuse to talk to the Afghan government so as to haggle over further concessions with their US interlocutors.
Now as the next round of talks is slated for February 25, the Taliban’s interlocutors and regional stakeholders have to push them for two issues: Firs, to come to the table with Kabul government. Second, to declare a truce so as to build trust and prove their bona fide intention for peace and reconciliation.
Meanwhile, it should be noted that “Islamic system” and “Islamic Constitution” carry very broad and vague meanings. What if the Taliban seek to exert “Sharia law” based on their own radical interpretation? There should be no ambiguity in these terms when the Taliban and their interlocutors reach an agreement.
The desire of Trump administration to not act as “the world’s policeman” is understandable. But it has to play the role of an umpire and make sure that the Taliban practice the peace agreement rightly if they strike a deal in the wake of their negotiations. This way, Afghans’ concerns will be allayed, too.