InternationalVOLUME 14 ISSUE # 23

The seventh round of US-Taliban talks

The seventh round of direct talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban is going on, but so far no breakthrough has been made to the end an 18-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. At the same time, violence is raging in Afghanistan as the Afghan Taliban have refused to halt attacks on civilians and government targets while the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are also inflicting heavy casualties on the insurgents in their heartland in the south of the country.

While continued violence from the government and the insurgents against each other and civilians in Afghanistan has made peace in the country a pipedream, but hopes are being expressed for a breakthrough in the seventh or possible the next round of talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States currently going on in Qatar’s capital Doha. Direct talks between the two sides have been going on with breaks for the last couple of years. Hopes started developing for a breakthrough earlier this year when the US expressed readiness to pull out all of its forces from Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban have been consistently asking Washington to pull out all its troops from Afghanistan in order to pave the way for the return of peace to the war-torn country. It may also be remembered that for more than a decade, the Taliban even refused to come to the negotiation table with the US unless the latter pull out all its troops from Afghanistan. However, eventually the militia had to show flexibility to drop the condition and come to the negotiation table, because it was not winning the war. Despite it, the Taliban have stuck to the demand and as the US has been reluctant to accede to the condition by the insurgents, an early solution to the conflict is not in sight. The US has potent reasons not to pull completely out of Afghanistan lest the country fall once again into total turmoil as the Taliban could not be defeated and they could become a constant threat to the western-backed and US-buttressed political dispensation of Afghanistan.

But the US finally realized that its continued presence in Afghanistan has been counterproductive to its interest in the country and the region. Therefore, the Donald Trump administration has been looking for ways and means to come out of the Afghan quagmire. The US forces in Afghanistan, since they first occupied the country in later 2001, have been the longest-ever foreign military entanglement of American history. In order to facilitate the US troops complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Trump appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as his Special Representative for Afghanistan. Khalilzad, a US citizen, has ancestors from Afghanistan and is a former US ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq. He is considered a troubleshooter and it proved quite correct as since his assumption of office of special representative for Afghanistan, there is a significant development towards a possible breakthrough between Washington and the Taliban.

During the seventh round of direct talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban and the possible next round of negotiations, four main issues are and would be on the table. The foremost, as mentioned earlier, is the timeframe for the pullout of all of the US troops from Afghanistan. The second is and would be the announcement of ceasefire by the Taliban insurgents. The third issue which needs to be tackled between the two sides is intra-Afghan negotiations. The fourth main issue is and would be the post-US withdrawal political dispensation in the country. If one looks into all the four issues, they have been concatenated. As the US has not been committing to an announcement of a complete withdrawal of it forces from Afghanistan or to give a clear timeframe in this connection, the Taliban have been refusing to announce cessation of hostilities. The US has been arguing that if it announced a pullout from Afghanistan without first making the Taliban to announce a ceasefire, it would embolden the insurgents and yet again throw Afghanistan into complete chaos. The Taliban, on their side, have been arguing that a ceasefire by them would negate their narrative that they have been waging a “war of liberation” against the occupation of their country by the foreign forces. Moreover, the Taliban have been contending that an announcement of ceasefire by them would be tantamount to accepting the western-orchestrated extant political dispensation of Afghanistan.

Insofar as the issue of intra-Afghan dialogue between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government, on the one hand, and the Afghan Taliban and other political and power stakeholders is concerned, it could not take place fundamentally due to the hesitance of the Taliban. The militia has been desisting from holding dialogue with Kabul and other claimants of power inside Afghanistan, because its members have been under a feeling of being the dominant political force in the country. Even if the members of the Taliban realize that there are other legitimate claimants of power in Afghanistan side by side the militia, they would never publicly express it for fear of weakening their position and justification for waging an insurgency and fighting the foreign forces. Then holding dialogue with other Afghan power stakeholders by the Taliban would mean sharing power with these groups, which has never been acceptable to the militia. Keeping in view the raison d’être and context of the rise of the Taliban in 1994, and their capturing of power in 1996 in Afghanistan and an establishment of a pseudo puritanical regime to the exclusion of all other Afghan groups, it can be very easily understood that why the Taliban never engaged in intra-Afghan dialogue. Due to this reason, peace could not be restored in Afghanistan.

The issue of the post-withdrawal political dispensation of Afghanistan and the future of the existing political system in the country is very complex and has no quick fix. The Afghan Taliban have consistently said that they do not think the political system of Afghanistan as legitimate. Firstly, because it was propounded by the western forces and secondly it has not been based on Islamic Shariah. So, if there is no agreement between the US and the Taliban on the core issue of the pullout of the American and other foreign forces from Afghanistan, the return of peace would be extremely difficult. However, this does not mean that there should not be any breakthrough on the issue of withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan. It would lead to the solution of other main issues, with the last main problem of a new political system of the country to be the most difficult to address. However, once the first three issues of the alien forces pullout, ceasefire by the Taliban and intra-Afghan dialogue are resolved, it would create the much-needed atmosphere for the Afghan stakeholders and their foreign supporters to agree on a broad-based political system for the country. This is the only way forward to restore peace to the war-ravaged country.