Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, December 13th, 2019

Has Peace Process Failed?

Despite the increasing optimism about the outcome of US-Taliban peace talks, which was raised by US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the process ended with a message tweeted by US President Donald Trump, but little is known about the sudden about-turn in the process.
Khalilzad held nine rounds of talks with the Taliban leadership behind closed doors and aired his optimism on several occasions after each ending as he described the talks “the most productive session” and “substantial progress”. He also insisted on the crucial role of regional and global stakeholders and appreciated their support to the Afghan peace process. Khalilzad said that “peace” and “ceasefire” was part of the agenda for the White House even if not for the Taliban leadership.
In May, Khalilzad said in a tweet that “peace require that we find common ground on four inter-connected issues: troop withdrawal, counter-terrorism assurances, intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations, and reduction in violence leading to comprehensive ceasefire”.
Meanwhile, to support peace process, Washington and Islamabad cemented their ties and US President urged Islamabad to put its weight behind the talks. On the other hand, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan promised on his trip to Washington that he would hold talks with the Taliban.
Despite all the issues, including Khalilzad’s persistence on comprehensive ceasefire and his optimistic views, he ended the talks with a draft agreement, which was acceptable neither to Kabul nor to Washington. Bargaining hard at the table, the Taliban leadership turned down Khalilzad’s demand for ceasefire. The draft agreement was reportedly calling the Taliban “Islamic Emirate” and the Taliban would not declare ceasefire. Worst, the Taliban intensified their attacks against the Afghan government and nation.
I raised my doubt and mistrust about the Taliban in many commentaries and reiterated that the Taliban had been a foul player and they would never practice genuine intention in that regard. With this in mind, I mentioned that if the Taliban did not observe the rule of the talks, they had to face the consequences similar to Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, which was a stronger terrorist group than the Taliban are, but was dismantled by military forces.
Although the United States may have legitimate concerns about the Taliban’s intensified attacks in Afghanistan, it is possible that increased diplomatic pressure on the Taliban could have resulted in lesser carnage and persuaded the militants to engage with the Ghani administration.
With Washington’s sudden turn-about, Afghans are in limbo. They have no idea if Washington resumes the talks or will resort to military forces. Washington should clarify its stance on the peace process.
In response to Trump’s tweet, the Taliban leadership said that Trump’s statements had damaged his credibility and warned of more American deaths.
However, it is evident that the Taliban played a foul game through intensifying their militancy amid the peace talks, which will justify Trump’s decision. If the Taliban was genuine in the talks, they had to declare ceasefire. That is, the US-Taliban draft agreement had to lead to ceasefire and Khalilzad should not have succumbed to Taliban’s demands. In a series of tweets, Trump hit out at the Taliban, asking “what kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?”
If Washington is going to resume the talks, it has to include Afghan representatives in the process. Forming an inclusive team, US and Afghan representatives included, is likely to be more productive. There should be a single deal between the Taliban, Afghanistan, and the US and agreed upon unanimously. The concern of Afghan people should be also considered in the talks, if resumed.
Meanwhile, regional and global stakeholders have to play an active role in this regard. They have to break their silence and use their leverage so that the negotiating sides reach a unanimously agreed pact.
The Taliban have to reduce violence if they are genuine in negotiations. Intensifying attacks amid talks reflects the Taliban’s insincere intention. They seek concessions through bargaining over higher price.
It is clear that the Taliban are also exhausted from the conflict and are aware that they will not win through war. If they miss the chance for talks, they will face harsh consequences and regret their rigid stance.
It has been urged that negotiations are crucial for finding a solution. Talks will only bear the desired result if regional stakeholders play their role constructively and push the Taliban to stop violence to show their genuine intention in the talks. The talks are a win-win situation if the demands of all negotiating sides are observed and the Taliban should not seek to impose only their own demands.