Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, October 20th, 2020

The Ambiguous Landscape of Peace Talks

The landscape of peace talks is still ambiguous. The Taliban and Afghan government started talks in the Qatari capital of Doha, but casualties continue, which make Afghan people highly frustrated. Afghans fear the talks will not lead to sustainable peace if the negotiating sides continue controversy and do not agree about truce. Neither the US-Taliban peace agreement nor the start of the intra-Afghan dialogue has so far led to peace or reduction of violence.
The talks will be meaningful for ordinary Afghans if they feel reduction of violence or ceasefire. Undocumented sources say that the Taliban are likely to agree with declaration of ceasefire in coming days. It is believed that the escalated violence will push the talks to deadlock. Reduction of violence or declaration of ceasefire, which are reiterated by Afghan side, will fill the air with hope and trust. If there is mistrust between the negotiators, talks will not bear the desired result.
In his speech to the UNGA, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said, “The Afghan people have a clear and urgent priority: a ceasefire. An urgent end to the violence will more than anything else give us a chance to progress.”
It is self-explanatory that the intra-Afghan talks will be highly contentious since they are detailed and all issues – including ceasefire, the future political structure, power-sharing, democratic principles, women’s rights and liberties, Afghan constitution, etc. – will be discussed.
To push the peace process forward, Afghan leaders seek regional and international consensus. The trip of Afghan peace chief Abdullah Abdullah to Pakistan mended the often fraught ties between Kabul and Islamabad to some extent and alleviated the mutual mistrust. That is, despite the points of contention, the bonhomie on view during Abdullah’s three-day visit was a rare positive development in a relationship that has been marked by decades of mistrust. In an interview, Abdullah said that he was assured by Pakistani leadership that they would play their role in convincing the Taliban to truce or reduce the level of violence. During Abdullah’s visit, both Afghan and Pakistani officials expressed their desire to move beyond their acrimonious past and build cooperative relations. Both sides, by the end of the visit, suggested that ground had been prepared for turning the page in bilateral relations.
President Ghani, along with a high-level delegation, has traveled to Kuwait and Qatar, which will cement ties between Afghanistan and the two countries. Ghani is also said to visit US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and commander of US forces in Afghanistan General Scott Miller. In short, his trip will help the formation of regional consensus, which is highly crucial for moving the peace process forward.
In my past commentaries, I reiterated that regional and global stakeholders carry heavy weight in the Afghan peace process and have to use their leverage on the Taliban. If the stakeholders, mainly Pakistan, engage actively and constructively in the Afghan peace talks, they are unlikely to reach stalemate.
Meanwhile, many believe that national consensus still remains an issue. Afghan leaders and heads of political parties have to reach national consensus on peace process as well as members of High Council for National Reconciliation.
The people of Afghanistan are really apprehensive about lack of national consensus and believe that a number of political figures simply ponder over their self-interests.
Overall, despite the ongoing talks in Qatar, Afghan people still pay heavy sacrifices. The Taliban have to prove their genuine intention, if they have, for talks through reducing violence and stopping killing civilians. To put it succinctly, reduction in violence and declaration of truce will, in addition to creating hope and trust for the public, be conducive to sustainable peace and stability.
The talks are held behind closed doors and there is no clear landscape for Afghan people, who bear the brunt of casualties. Afghans warned consistently that an agreement, which compromises their human rights or years of their sacrifices for achieving democratic gains, will not be acceptable. With this in mind, Afghan representatives have to present a united front in the negotiations and reiterate the values and achievements gained within the last couple of decades.
The Taliban have to reduce violence and declare ceasefire to let the peace process move forward. In short, killing Afghan soldiers and civilians will not be in the interests of the Taliban group and will only trigger public hatred against it. People’s rights to life should be respected and their red-line needs to be maintained since they paid heavy sacrifices.