Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, July 11th, 2020

Public Worries about Outcome of Peace Talks

If political vacuum emerges in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US forces, all democratic achievements will be at stake. The ongoing peace talks are highly significant for Afghanistan. The Taliban interlocutors, mainly the US delegates, have to urge for international guarantee for peace agreement, if it is ever signed.
The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has said in his book “The Envoy” that following the collapse of the communist regime in 1992 and disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Bush and Clinton administrations, instead of working to stabilize the situation, did not engage in Afghanistan’s issue as it descended into civil war. He added, “We failed to form a broad-based transitional government, which could have empowered moderate forces and avoided Afghanistan’s collapse into civil war”. Khalilzad stated that “prolonged warfare and instability enabled the triumph of the Taliban, whose regime made Afghanistan a magnet for violent Islamists worldwide”.
Now as Khlilazad is leading the US representatives in Doha talks, a number of Afghans, including political pundits, fear that if hasty withdrawal is agreed upon by the two negotiating sides, a void will emerge again, which will push Afghanistan to a new challenge. That is to say, it is feared that the Taliban are slowing negotiations to run down the clock, with President Trump already signaling he wants out of the war anyway.
The Taliban are pushing for a timeframe of US troop pullout in the ongoing peace talks in Qatar without showing tendency to negotiate ceasefire, which is in the agenda of their US interlocutors. Before sixth round of talks, the Taliban also declared seasonal spring offensive to intensify their attacks notwithstanding their presence at the table to discuss peace. 
With this in mind, the stakeholders have to agree on the sequencing of the troop pullout, the ceasefire, the political settlement, and long-term assistance to Afghanistan to ensure that the withdrawal of foreign troops does not leave a vacuum in the country, as was the case after the 1988 Geneva Accords.
A degree of regional consensus over Afghanistan’ final status security issues is required for the country’s stabilization even after signing peace deal with the Taliban. These issues have to be considered: “What (minimal) redlines can all stakeholders endorse concerning the composition and structure of the Afghan government? What, if any, international military advisory or counterterrorist presence will international actors offer Afghanistan? What will be the size, mission, and composition of the security and defense forces that international actors will support? Who will finance, equip, and train those forces and fund service provision by the state? How will landlocked Afghanistan be integrated into the regional and global economy?”
Meanwhile, all local stakeholders – government officials, opposition leaders and tribal elders – have to reach a consensus among themselves on what they want from the peace settlement. Currently, they seem to be more focused on holding on to their seats after the upcoming presidential election than reaching a deal with the Taliban.
To this end, it is believed that, on the one hand, lack of regional and local consensus, and on the other hand, the Taliban’s intensified attacks and their unwillingness to declare ceasefire are the main obstacles before reaching a peace deal.
Lack of agreed regional framework corresponding to the present Doha talks and the empty seats of Afghan official delegates around the table is really disappointing. The National Unity Government expects US negotiating team to persuade the Taliban, in the present negotiation, to hold direct talks with the Kabul government. In other words, it is widely believed that talks behind closed doors, without the presence of Kabul representatives, will not lead to peace.
Negotiating from the position of confidence, the Taliban still persist on their demands without signaling for ceasefire.
The Taliban’s refusal to President Ghani’s offer for ceasefire in Ramadan, Muslims’ holy month, and the demands of Loya Jirga representatives for peace clearly shows the Taliban’s lukewarm response to peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Overall, since peace talks have led to no palpable result despite being debated hotly, Afghans are not optimistic enough about the outcome of the talks but they are highly frustrated with the decade-long war. Meanwhile, Afghan people are also worried about the return of “Islamic Emirate” since the Taliban abide by no law.
Since Khalilzad is a veteran envoy and aware of Afghanistan’s social, political, and cultural structures, it is hoped that he would consider all aspects of peace deal, if it is signed, so that the past mistake is not repeated and a political vacuum will not emerge.