Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, January 18th, 2021

Bumpy Road of Peace Talks

Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have started in Doha and the two sides have their own priorities. Ceasefire and formation of the future government will be discussed before other issues are put at the table. Before departing to Doha for the second round of talks, some Afghan negotiators and political figures assumed that formation of transitional government would be a hot topic in the negotiations, but the Ghani administration is unwilling to discuss the latter.
Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said that he would hand over the power to his elected successor. It indicates that Ghani does not agree with the establishment of interim government and believes that the ground needs to be paved for the political participation of the Taliban in the next presidential election.
However, the Taliban show tendency in formation of interim government but not under President Ghani.
Dr. Amin Ahmadi, a member of Afghanistan negotiating team, said in his exclusive interview that the Taliban wanted an Iran-like system based on religious leadership. He pointed out that the system that the Taliban wanted was individual-centered, but the republic system was based on civil rights and supported segregation of powers. Ahmadi noted that, instead of seeking an interim government, the Taliban sought to discuss designation of “Zaeim (leader)” at the negotiating table to form the future system.
He roughly echoed the remarks of Second Vice President, who said earlier that seeking (fundamental) amendments to the Constitution would meant collapse of the system, saying that interim government, without reaching an agreement about other issues, would be multiplying everything by zero. Ahmadi said that in case of discussion about interim government, all fundamental issues and democratic principles had to be preserved.
A number of political pundits also believe that an interim government would be backtracking and undoing all achievements.
But it is important to note that the Afghanistan negotiating team has its “red-line” which includes preservation of past achievements, democratic values, human rights and constitutional framework and principles.
Nonetheless, the Taliban believe that civil rights and women’s rights and liberties, as stipulated in the Constitution, is excluded from Islamic framework and have to be re-defined in a way to be included in the frame of Islamic tenets.
Overall, amendments to Constitution, women’s rights and freedoms, freedom of press and expressions, democratic values, non-discriminatory principles, etc. are likely to be a bone of contention between the negotiating sides in the latest round of talks since the Taliban – who are said not to have moderated their ideology – seek a re-definition of human rights and women’s rights principles and an amendment to the Constitution. However, the aforesaid issues, including preservation of security institutions as well as judicial, legislative, and executive powers, will be red-line for the Ghani administration. What if the contentious issues lead to deadlock?
If fear of deadlock looms large, regional and global stakeholders have to put their weight behind the talks.
The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad is said to have proposed a three-month ceasefire to Afghan officials in his trip to Kabul. Afghan officials and ordinary people will appreciate this proposal.
The Taliban have persisted on forming a “pure Islamic system” which is full of ambiguity and the Taliban are not able to define and clarify it. Afghans fear this ambiguity since there is great possibility for exploiting religious tenets under this term. That is, the Taliban have so far capitalized on religious terminology and Afghans fear that they may still want to continue their old policy.
Generally speaking, ceasefire, Afghanistan’s future system, and division of power will be the agenda in the latest round of talks. For Afghan officials and people, ceasefire carry a highly heavy weight and the Taliban have to cease the conflict, which will be conducive to reaching a peace agreement.
Both the Taliban and their republic interlocutors have to show flexibility in the talks and consider the demands of the people of Afghanistan. It is self-explanatory that the public also demand preservation of the constitutional framework, which includes human rights and women’s rights and liberties as well as democratic values. 
Peace talks are a win-win strategy aimed at ending decades of conflict in the country. With this in mind, the rights and liberties of the people and past achievements should not be put at stake as a result of the ongoing talks.
Afghan political factions and figures should also back the public demands and the government’s stance so that the talks bear the desired result. To put it shortly, if the Taliban hold out against declaration of ceasefire and persist on their own demands, the talks are likely to be deadlocked. The two sides need to find common grounds and regional and global stakeholders also should support the process.