Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

Peace Talks Viewed with Hope and Mistrust

Peace talks between the Taliban and US representatives have again generated hope as the US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said that negotiations had reached an “important stage” amid a renewed push to reach an agreement.
Following talks with the Taliban leadership in the Qatari capital of Doha, Khalilzad had made a trip to Kabul, where he briefed Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani on the talks and discussed the “ceasefire and the Taliban’s safe havens outside Afghanistan”.
US negotiating team is seeking to persuade the Taliban to reduce violence and come to the table with the Afghan government. It is self-explanatory that if the Taliban do not reduce violence or turn down the US’ demand for holding intra-Afghan dialogue, peace talks are unlikely to bear the desired result.
The Taliban, however, have said that reduction of violence and negotiation with Kabul would be declared after signing an agreement with the United States. Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, is cited as saying, “The intra-Afghan talks will be possible on condition that an agreement is signed with the US for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.” In other words, Washington is seeking to revise the drafted deal with the Taliban, but the Taliban urge that dialogue should be resumed from where it was left. Thus, the two issues seem to be a bone of contention between the negotiating sides.
Washington expects Islamabad to use its leverage on the Taliban to negotiate with Kabul and reduce violence. To cement ties with Pakistan, the Trump administration has approved the resumption of Islamabad to participate in the International Military Education and Training Program, which was suspended more than a year.
Now the ball is in the Pakistan’s court whether it fulfills its promise for supporting the Afghan peace process. Islamabad has always reiterated its support to the talks, but yet to prove it.
Meanwhile, regional and global stakeholders also urge intra-Afghan dialogue. For example, Germany has declared its preparation to broker talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government. German Ambassador to Kabul Markus Potzel said that mediation in Afghan peace talks was “very important” and could pave the ground for lasting peace. He urged “trust-building” between the Taliban and Kabul.
Two issues are highly significant in the fruition of peace talks. For the one, the inclusion of the Afghan government in the peace process. Without the engagement of the Kabul administration in the talks, they are unlikely to come to fruition.
Second, regional stakeholders have to use their leverage on the Taliban leadership and support the peace process actively. That is to say, if regional and international stakeholders do not put their weight behind the talks, US-Taliban negotiations are unlikely to lead to durable peace in Afghanistan.
There has been a groundswell of support for reduction of violence in the country. Afghan ordinary people have called on the Taliban to reduce violence, mainly against non-combatants, and negotiate with Kabul. Nonetheless, the Taliban group has so far resisted the demand.
With the Taliban’s relentless resistance against the public and global demand for reduction of violence, a sense of doubt has been triggered for two reasons: First, a number of people believe that the Taliban seek to play a foul game at the peace talks and will not practice upon the agreement if they reach with Washington, especially if US withdraws its from Afghanistan. Hence, they, including scores of Afghans, view the Taliban with fear and mistrust.
Second, it is believed that the Taliban outfit does not practice authority on its military commanders and foot soldiers. Hence, the group fears that its weakness will be revealed to the world, which is one of the main reasons behind resisting declaration of ceasefire. 
If the Taliban are sincere in the talks, they should also accept their interlocutors’ preconditions. That is, the Taliban have to observe the rule of negotiations and, besides persisting on their demand, should also accept the preconditions set by their interlocutors.
It is believed that if the Taliban play a foul game at the peace table, they will face the consequences. Meanwhile, if Pakistan does not engage in the process constructively and does not use its leverage, relation between Washington and Islamabad will hit rock bottom. In such a case, Trump administration may apply its strategy of pressuring – i.e. imposing sanctions on Pakistan. Subsequently, the relation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will be also strained. Thus, Pakistan will also sustain the harm.
It is evident that the constructive engagement of regional and global stakeholders in the Afghan peace process is in the interests of the entire region.
Khalilzad’s statements about “important stage” of the talks are ambiguous but still generate hope for Afghan people. It is hoped that the Taliban will prove their sincerity in the talks through reducing violence and negotiating with the Kabul administration and regional stakeholders prove their sincerity in engaging constructively in the talks.