A revival of peace talks between the US and the Taliban
Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, his chief negotiator and a team of 12 influential members recently engaged in meetings with the United States’ geopolitical adversaries. In less than a month, they have met with the regional powers of Iran, Russia, China and now, Pakistan, in efforts to secure their political and military support ahead of negotiations with the United States. The backing of regional powers could potentially lead to a favorable political solution for their organization and cause.
As noted, these encounters are closely timed alongside the resumption of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in Islamabad, Pakistan. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special envoy for Afghanistan peace and reconciliation, is currently in Pakistan to meet with Pakistani officials and government heads as the Trump administration looks to restart the negotiation process on a positive note.
Negotiations between the United States and the Taliban were placed on hold last month after a Taliban-coordinated attack killed a US soldier. The goal of renewed diplomatic discourse is to overcome the political setbacks of recent months and salvage the possibility of a political settlement for the Taliban in a new, modern and democratic Afghanistan.
President Trump remains confident in his relationship with Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, and in the ability of the Pakistani government to play a positive and productive role in the negotiations between the United States and Talibani stakeholders.
Recently, the two leaders were able to hold a joint meeting at the United Nations as the global community gathered in New York City for the 74th General Assembly (UNGA). Khan expressed that “Stability in Afghanistan means stability in Pakistan.” At UNGA, President Trump echoed similar sentiments in his statement, “With that goal in mind, my administration is also pursuing the hope of a brighter future in Afghanistan.”
The political environment has somewhat shifted since talks stalled. Negotiations are set to resume in the immediate aftermath of Afghanistan’s fourth Presidential Election; an election that was often debated in intra-Afghan dialogue prior to reaching a prospective deal.
Despite the fact that the 60,000-strong Taliban were outnumbered by security forces, Afghan voters still feared the threats issued by the Taliban. The Afghan presidential election produced a dismal turnout as only 2.2 million out of 9.6 million registered voters cast ballots.
Following a ceasefire in June of 2018, the United States opened lines of communication with the Taliban in an effort to end the Afghan conflict through a negotiated settlement by way of intra-Afghan dialogues.
The US and Taliban met nine times and an agreement was reached between them at the last meeting held in August 2019. If the agreement was bilaterally approved, the US would withdraw its 14,000 forces from Afghanistan over a timeline and the Taliban would have participated in the elections. Additionally, the Taliban would have agreed to no longer harbor terrorists in their controlled territories and cut ties with al-Qaeda.
A negotiated settlement is in the best interest of Afghanistan given the situation that Afghans remain hopeful for peace, yet remain in fear for their lives. The noticeable low voter turnout depicts this. “I did not vote because I did not want to get killed,” said a 25-year-old shopkeeper in District 11 of Kabul City to a Rise to Peace researcher.
Conditions of negotiation and set agreements must be implemented in the case that peace talks are to be restored between the Taliban and the US. It is unfair to discuss peace in Doha while innocent civilians continued to be killed in Afghanistan because the Taliban feel emboldened enough to carry out such attacks whilst engaged in negotiations. This type of manipulation and plays for power are futile as they will instill hate and fear among Afghans instead.
Over 84 percent of Afghans believed President Trump’s decision to call off peace talks with the Taliban was correct. This number must be placed into context because a similar number of respondents believed that negotiations were in the best interest of the country prior to a series of deadly Taliban attacks. Public opinion shifted due to the Taliban’s barbaric attacks on congested areas, therefore Trump’s decision became well-regarded.
It must be acknowledged that the past four peace agreements over the last four decades with different actors and regimes were unsuccessful in all regards. Rather, they triggered further violence and war that undoubtedly created the contemporary situation — an unstable Afghanistan with over 22 terrorist groups operating across its territory that pose a serious threat to the national security of Afghanistan, the region and the rest of the world.
Peace is on the agenda for every candidate and political leader in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, but its achievement remains problematic. Historically speaking, Afghans create their own impediments to peace, such as difficulties in accepting defeat, aversion to power-sharing and an unwillingness to compromise.
Afghans are the key to a peaceful Afghanistan; therefore, all parties must be dedicated to that unitive goal. For instance, Ashraf Ghani, the incumbent Afghan president, expressed cynicism towards the peace talks and citizens viewed this skepticism as a “thirst for power.” At the same time, the Taliban accepted the US offer to negotiation, took it for granted and engaged in attacks against innocent civilians that just in one week over 500 people were killed in Afghanistan.
A lack of cohesive rhetoric and actions is undoubtedly apparent; thus Afghanistan remains in a perpetual state of disorder.
Finally, it must be expressed that previous examples and this most recent case are prime examples of how selfishness and a lack of compromise can lead to crisis. The United States and the greater international community are greatly invested in efforts to aid Afghans to achieve peace, but Afghans need to contribute to the goal as well. Those in leadership positions must compromise and factions of Afghan society should cooperate towards the objectives of national unity, peace, and prosperity.
Conflict based upon ethnic allegiances — such as identification as Tajik or Pashtun, rather than Afghan — will foment civil grievances and extinguish any hopes for peace.
Ahmad Mohibi is the founder of Rise to Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi
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