Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, November 18th, 2019

The Rocky Road of Afghan Peace Process

Both the Taliban delegation and U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said that the two sides had made headway in the ongoing peace talks in Qatar. But the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the talks “incredibly complicated” and said Washington was trying to “find pockets” where there was “sufficient agreement” that everyone could begin to move forward.
Afghan officials prepare for consultative Loya Jirga to achieve a national consensus and believe that only an intra-Afghan peace talks will bear the desired result. Afghans also support an “Afghan-owned” and “Afghan-led” peace process.
In the fifth round of peace talks, the Taliban and U.S. representatives are still bargaining for the withdrawal of U.S. forces – the timeline and presence of military bases in Afghanistan are mostly likely to be controversial – and guaranteeing that Afghan territory must not be used against the U.S. and its allies. The U.S. urges for gradual troop pullout to be completed in 2024, however, the Taliban demand pullout in one year. The U.S. haggling over keeping military bases in Afghanistan has been denied by the Taliban.
U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said, “National security officials have been discussing this issue and how to try to bring it about… but there is no blind trust in the Taliban in this administration”. Bolton’s remarks suggest that there is trust deficit between the Taliban and the U.S. and they will bargain further at the table. In his upcoming trip, Pompoe is likely to bargain over the two aforementioned issues.
A number of individuals believe that the troop pullout will create a vacuum in Afghanistan, however, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi denied this claim. Meeting the press on the sidelines of the second session of the 13th National People’s Congress, Wang Yi said, “There is no vacuum in Afghanistan needs to be filled, because the land belongs to the people of Afghanistan.” He added, “This year marks the centenary of Afghanistan’s independence. We ardently hope that this country, after suffering so much, will have a rebirth, take destiny into its own hands from now on, and enjoy genuine independence and lasting peace”. Reiterating China’s support to peace and stability in Afghanistan, Wang said, “China will respect its people’s wish and needs, continue to do its best for reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan”.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan and Russia have also signaled their intention for supporting peace process and urged for a regional consensus.
In my past commentaries about peace talks, I reiterated that involving regional stakeholders would yield positive outcome.
It is self-explanatory that the participation of the Taliban’s deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and U.S. Secretary of State’s upcoming trip to Qatar indicate seriousness of the two sides for peace talks and has generated much optimism.
Nonetheless, ending 18 years of conflict seems a highly challenging issue and will not take place overnight. Therefore, the two sides will bargain over the ins and outs of the agreement and push for many other issues. For instance, the U.S. seeks to persuade the Taliban to hold direct talks with Afghan government and declare ceasefire. On their part, the Taliban bargain over higher price.
In Afghanistan, lack of national consensus on the one hand, and mistrust between Afghans and the Taliban on the other hand are one of the main obstacles. As a result, heads of political factions, including Hamid Karzai and second deputy CEO Haji Mohammad Mohaqqiq, participated in the second round of Moscow meeting held by Afghan diaspora despite the government’s disapproval, which suggests a rift between political parties and government officials. Moreover, Afghan women fear that the return of “Islamic Emirate” of the Taliban will put their rights and freedoms at stake. In turn, they voice their concern, demand active participation in the peace parley, and urge the Taliban’s interlocutors not to compromise 18 years of women’s achievements at the table. Thus, the rift has to be bridged and national consensus yet to be achieved for meaningful negotiations.
China’s Wang Yi said, “We call on the international community give firm support for the ‘Afghan-led’, ‘Afghan-owned’ peace and reconciliation process, play a constructive role from the sideline and build a momentum for dialogue”.
Indeed, the international community, regional stakeholders, and Afghanistan’s neighboring countries have to play their role constructively in this regard and push the Taliban to stop fighting. Meanwhile, Kabul government needs to struggle for achieving national consensus and bridging the gap between officials within the government’s machinery as well as between officials and political parties.