Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, May 28th, 2020

Further Haggling at the Negotiating Table

After several rounds of talks held between the Taliban and US representatives in Qatar, the draft agreement is still controversial. If the Taliban could bring down their expectations in a pragmatic way and made positive response to the latest development, reduce their insurgent offensives, and try to reach a ceasefire agreement with their adversary, the peace process could make a substantial step forward.
Some US and Afghan officials showed optimism about peace talks on multiple occasions and believed that US-Taliban talks would be finalized at least in ninth or tenth round of talks, however, ifs and buts continue over the drafted agreement between the two sides, which has slowed down the agreement.
It is believed that the conditions set by the Taliban – which included re-opening their political office in Qatar, lifting of travel curbs on their leaders, and release of their prisoners – have been fulfilled by Kabul and Washington to a great extent. Nonetheless, the Taliban have shown almost no gesture of goodwill and are unwilling to fulfill the conditions set by the US side which include ceasefire and prolonging “reduction in violence”.
On Tuesday, during his State of the Union address, US President Donald Trump said that Washington would not “serve other nations as law enforcement agencies”. Trump’s words as not acting as “world’s policeman” is understandable; however, Afghans expect the US not to make a hasty decision and, at least, play the role of an umpire and make sure that the Taliban practice the peace accord rightly, if the two sides reach an agreement as a result of negotiations. 
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has decided to reduce its own forces from roughly 12,000 troops to around 8,500, whether the US and Taliban sign an agreement or not. Under the current American drawdown plan, however, the US is said to maintain at least six bases, including the two led by the Germans and Italians in the country’s north and west.
In his recent remarks, US General Jack Keane said that the Taliban’s leaders calculated that a withdrawal of US troops would generate a massive boost to their movement in Afghanistan adding that the withdrawal would amount to a US admission of defeat and guarantee the legitimacy of the political wing of the Taliban.
It is believed that if Washington begins to officially cut its own presence in Afghanistan, some members of the NATO are likely to withdraw thousands of their forces from the country, under the mantra of “in together, out together.” 
At the peace table, the Taliban focused on troop pullout without designing their strategy following the agreement. “The Taliban have not yet worked out a post-peace deal strategy in terms of how they will transform their war machinery into a political asset. So far, they have been set on capitalizing on foreign troops’ withdrawal and devising a power-sharing formula with other stakeholders in Afghanistan,” said a Pakistani military analyst.
As its post-peace deal strategy, the Kabul administration stresses on practicing upon the democratic constitution, observing the rights and freedoms of women as stipulated by the constitution, and safeguarding the democratic gains achieved within the past 18 years.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also once urged observation of women’s rights and liberties, transparency of the peace talks, and protection of Afghanistan’s democratic achievements.
But it appears that the Taliban are willing to pursue “Islamic Emirate” system, in which democracy has no room and women’s rights and liberties will be curtailed.
There is also discord between the Taliban splinter group, to not mention the disagreement between their political leaders and military commanders. Recently, a Taliban splinter commander Mullah Abdulmanan Niazi has said Taliban’s peace delegation in Qatar is stooge of Pakistan adding that his group is waging war against those militants hailing from the “Taliban Emirate”. His deputy chief is cited as saying, “Pakistan is trying to deceive the United States; Americans should be directly negotiating with Pakistanis if they keep turning a blind eye to the voice of the Afghan nation.”
Overall, despite optimism about peace talks and seasonal reports of progress, no breakthrough has been made in the negotiations. The US and Taliban appear to wrangle over the content of the draft agreement, which was arranged and will be signed behind closed doors.
If Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, mainly Pakistan, and global actors do not put their weight behind the peace talks with genuine intention and a national consensus is not formed, the talks are unlikely to bear the desired result. Meanwhile, if the Taliban do not bring down their expectations and refuse to declare ceasefire and negotiate with the Kabul administration, the talks may reach a stalemate. It is believed that if talks continue further without definite results, new obstacles will emerge.