Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, September 21st, 2020

Peace Talks – An Interminable Issue

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have been a controversial issue and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai lost his trust in Barack Obama administration, especially after Obama softened his tone towards the Taliban and started contacting the Taliban leadership for negotiations.
Stating that US forces had killed a number of high-ranking al-Qaeda officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan and dismantled the network, Obama administration sought to show that the United States won the war in Afghanistan. It urged that regarding the Taliban, the Kabul government had to negotiate with the group so as to resolve the tension.
Although Karzai persisted on several occasions that the Taliban’s safe haven was across the border not in Afghanistan and the US had to target the Taliban leaders outside Afghan soil, the United States disregarded the issue, which furthered Karzai’s mistrust.
Karzai believed that Washington would not support an “Afghan-owned” and “Afghan-led” talks. Meetings between Afghan political parties and the Taliban leadership enraged Karzai further.
However, during President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s tenure, Karzai himself led heads of political parties in Moscow to hold negotiations with the Taliban group. Persisting on the establishment of an interim government, Karzai was against presidential elections.
On the other hand, President Ghani, who believed that administrative corruption was one of the main reasons behind insurgency in Karzai administration, could neither mitigate corruption nor persuade the Taliban to hold direct talks with his government. Despite all the ups and downs, peace talks have still remained a controversial issue and the Taliban yet to come to the table with the government’s official representatives. 
Contacts between the Taliban leadership and Washington has been ushered in and Pakistan was urged to broker the talks. During Trump administration, talks between US and Taliban representatives began. Pakistan released Mullah Baradar to catalyze the peace process between the two sides. Although the Taliban and its US interlocutors reached an agreement “in principle” after holding nine rounds of talks, it was called off by US President Donald Trump in the last minutes.
Now the two sides seek to resume the talks. With the resumption of peace talks, the Afghan government urges not to be sidelined anymore. Meanwhile, some regional stakeholders have also voiced to support intra-Afghan dialogue and China is reported to host a meeting between the Taliban and Afghan negotiating team soon. 
During his presidential tenure, Karzai urged Pakistan on several occasions to release Mullah Baradar for facilitating talks between his administration and the Taliban, but Pakistan turned down his demand. This issue triggered Karzai’s mistrust of Pakistan and believed that Islamabad was less likely to support Afghan peace process urging the Obama administration to put pressure on Pakistan in this regard.
Since US forces carried out attacks in Pakistani soil in some cases, which led to the death of al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden as well as Mullah Omar’s successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour, a rift emerged between Islamabad and Washington. But it was bridged soon.  
Overall, the Taliban seems to have been reduced from a terrorist network to a political faction as US seeks to reach an agreement with it through negotiations. At the table, the Taliban are urged to stop their links with al-Qaeda and its affiliates. But there is no trustworthy guarantee and the Taliban is unwilling to condemn the activities of al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks.
Trump, who called himself “problem solver”, is also seeking to show that Washington has gained victory in the war on terror. He has declared the death of Hamza bin Laden, son of al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the ISIS group.
Now his administration seeks an honorable withdrawal from Afghanistan through reaching an agreement with the Taliban leadership.
Nonetheless, the Taliban continues its terrorist activities in Afghanistan and spills the blood of Afghan civilians and soldiers. According to Afghans, declaring victory amidst intensification of the Taliban’s terrorist attacks and suicide bombings is ridiculous. War is won when sustainable peace and stability is established in Afghanistan.
In such a critical time, Afghan political leaders have to side with the Afghan government and support its stance. Individual contacts with the Taliban are more unlikely to lead to peace or stability.
Meanwhile, Washington and Islamabad are expected to put pressure on the Taliban leadership to negotiate with the Afghan government. In short, if Kabul is on the sidelines, the Taliban interlocutors will face obstacles in reaching a productive agreement with the group.