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

Let’s Cross Our Fingers with the Start of Peace Talks

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Let’s Cross Our Fingers with the Start of  Peace Talks

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held a meeting with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Abdul Hakim Haqqani, the new head of the Taliban negotiating team, in the Qatari capital of Doha before the start of the intra-Afghan dialogue, which is slated to start today. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Doha to attend the dialogue.
The start of intra-Afghan talks has been a highly controversial issue as there were disagreements between many sides, including the Afghan government and political heavyweights. As of now, the Taliban negotiating team has returned from a trip to Pakistan to sit across from the Afghan negotiators in Qatar. The Taliban’s team will be headed by Haqqani not Baradar – who signed a peace deal with Washington earlier this year paving the way for the US troop withdrawal and intra-Afghan talks. The Taliban’s former spokesperson Suhail Shaheen is also a member of the negotiating team. Three Taliban commanders are cited as saying that senior fighters on the ground had in recent weeks expressed reservations about Baradar’s dominance in the talks. Haqqani is said to also head the Taliban’s powerful council of religious scholars and is highly trusted by Taliban’s leader Mullah Haibatullah. The changes in the Taliban’s team indicates that there is a sense of mistrust within the Taliban’s high-ranking individuals. Overall, Haqqani carries much significance for the Taliban leadership in the talks with the Kabul team.
The intra-Afghan talks mark a historic opportunity for Afghanistan if the Taliban come to the table with genuine intention and stop their militancy. That is, the negotiations will carry great significance for the people of Afghanistan if they put an end to the four decades of war.
It is self-explanatory that talks are likely to bear the desired result if regional and global stakeholders put their weight behind the peace process. Afghan officials also expect stakeholders and their international allies to use their leverage on the Taliban and support the process so that Afghans pay no further sacrifices.
Calling the negotiators to “demonstrate the pragmatism, restraint, and flexibility this process will require to succeed”, Pompeo said the international community and the people of Afghanistan would be watching closely and the US was prepared to support as requested.
It is the first time that the Taliban and the Afghan negotiating team hold formal talks. However, Afghan officials wonder why Doha, not Kabul, is the place to discuss peace. It was more meaningful if the Taliban declared ceasefire and held talks in Kabul. Thus, talking of “Afghan-owned” and “Afghan-led” dialogue in Qatar gives little sense.
As Afghan officials and the Taliban sit across from each other, the people of Afghanistan are counting for the tangible and positive outcome. But they are concerned about the possibility of having their rights and freedoms, mainly those of women, compromised at the table since the Taliban are viewed with doubt. It is certain that the focus of the Taliban will be on seizing power not ceasefire or reduction of violence as they fought for gaining power at the cost of thousands of lives and country’s destruction. With this in mind, the Taliban will haggle much over gaining much power regardless of people’s demands and conditions. So, it will be Afghan delegation to haggle over the protection of public rights and freedoms, democratic gains, and constitutional principles. The achievements of the past two decades regarding the public rights and freedoms – especially those of women – democracy and education are highly important for Afghan men and women. To put it short, talks should not put the aforementioned gains at stake. It should be noted that compromising the blood of thousands of Afghan soldiers will be a betrayal to the victims’ families as well as to the country and nation.
The US marginalized the Afghan government from their talks in Qatar. Now it has to use its leverage and that of the regional and global stakeholders to pressure the Taliban leadership so that it respects the past achievements as well as Afghanistan’s Constitution and democratic principles. Afghans are not going to backtrack after paying heavy sacrifices and fighting for democracy and human rights within the last two decades. Afghan delegation should present a united front and do not let their Taliban interlocutors to cross the red-line. To think logically, peace is the right of Afghan people and the Taliban do not deserve to get concessions. 
Both the negotiating sides and regional and global stakeholders have to hear the voice of Afghan people and respect their demands and preconditions. The negotiating sides should not keep the public in dark and hold the talks transparently. 

Hujjatullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan and freelance writer based in Kabul. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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