The Afghan Taliban and US agreement in Doha has brought a ray of hope for ending several decades of violence that began with the 1979 Soviet Invasion. The two sides were keen to sit at the table for a final agreement in Doha after 18 months of negotiation for halting the18 years of violence. This peace-centric agreement focussed specifically on the withdrawal of American forces in exchange for a commitment for not allowing any terrorist outfit to operate on Afghan soil against the US. The deal provided the Taliban swap of 5000 prisoners by the Afghan government and the release of 1000 Afghan forces personnel by the Taliban. The intra-Afghan talks were supposed to start in March following the US-Taliban deal in February. The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that their government had made no commitments for a prisoner swap, and it cannot become a precondition for intra-Afghan talks. Unfortunately, it gave a rise to violence even at the time of the “Reduction in Violence” (RIV). After two days of Ghani’s ascendency as president of Afghanistan for the second term, he has dramatically reversed his later refusal of prisoner’s swap. Ghani then issued a decree of releasing the 1500 Afghan Taliban. Finally, intra-Afghan talks have begun after two months of discussions.
The willingness to find common ground for Intra-Afghan talks between the Afghan government and Taliban is welcomed by the Afghan nation and America. In an interview with Reuters, a member of the Afghan negotiating team, Nader Nadery, said that “The procedure including its preamble of the negotiation has been finalized and from now on, the negotiation will begin on the agenda.” The Taliban spoke person also confirmed the news regarding the breakthrough of Afghan Intra Talks. The joint committee will draft the topics for the agenda from both parties for negotiation. The Ghani’s spokesperson, Sediq Sediqi, has cued for a complete ceasefire, which is the Afghan people’s key demand. US Secretary Mike Pompeo congratulated both sides for this historic move. He has encouraged and extended their support and hard work in pursuit of a serious reduction of violence and ceasefire. Zalmy Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan Reconciliation, went a little further by saying that the Taliban and Afghan government agreed on a three-page agreement. He added that the agreement is to codify rules and procedures for intra-Afghan negotiations through a political road map and comprehensively cease armed fire. The NATO Secretary-General also welcomed the breakthrough by saying that “It is the first time that Taliban and the Afghan government are able to sign a document agreeing on the framework and modality for negotiation addressing the long-term peaceful solution.” Being playing a pivotal role in Afghan peace processes, Pakistan also welcomed the announcement of intra-Afghan agreement for setting rules for negotiations.
Despite the optimism we see in the Intra-Afghan talks, it still seems a dilemma, raising the concerns of common people worldwide. There are some questions better to be raised at this time.
1. Taliban have made a significant concession in their stance of terming the Afghan government not less than a puppet in the past. Last month, the agreement draft for negotiation had been withheld at the last minute as the Taliban contested the name mentioned as representatives of the “Afghan government.” Perhaps, they have known that they cannot go further without realizing that there is a legitimate government in Afghanistan. How can the Taliban be agreed on the final agreement that does not refer even to the Afghan government’s name?
2. The trump policy was immediately withdrawing the US troops from Afghanistan along with the allies. The concern here is about Joe Biden; President-Elect, whether he will be dismantling or embroiled in the President Trump policy of immediate withdrawal of the US forces? If he delays the withdrawal in the latter case, it may affect the US-Taliban agreement.
3. The code of conduct for setting the agreement clearly states that any other countries that have hosted, helped, or brought both the parties together on the table will not be included in the negotiation process. Only members of both parties will be present in negotiating with three persons for minutes from each side. However, there is still an influence on the negotiating team from outsiders. Whether the intra-Afghan talks will be influenced by any other foreign country?
4: One of the important issues in intra-Afghan talk is the prisoner swap from both sides, where a conditional decree has been released in March for releasing the Taliban prisoners. Whether the Afghan government is agreeing with their demand of releasing 5000 Taliban?
5: Afghan government wants a full ceasefire. Whether both the parties be agreeing to ceasefire fully or conditioning it with other preferences?
6: Both the parties will be trying to exponentially increase their power and influence in each of their control districts in a complete ceasefire. Whether the Afghan government will be keeping it in consideration?
7: There is a shuffle in the Taliban negotiating team where the toughest people, like Maulana Abdul Hakim Haqqani, has been appointed as the chief negotiator from the Taliban. Whether the Taliban are keen to have no concessions during talks or they don’t want to deal with the other party as they did in the past with the US?
8: Afghanistan is facing the division of ethnicities and ethnocentric disputes inflicted from the long-lasting conflicts. The Afghan Taliban were also dominating the Afghan peace process with the Islamic Hanafi School of thought. Whether in this situation, the Taliban will be inclusive, keeping all ethnicities and sects in their peace talks or alienate them?
Concluding, there is a need for the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned constructive approaches to keep everything balanced in these talks. There is a shift in the Taliban’s old mindset; they are more advanced and going parallel to the world. The Afghan government must also realize to keep flexibilities in their stances to give an attractive political solution for the Afghan conflict and ensure peace a chance. In the meantime, Pakistan has played an important role in bringing both parties to Doha’s negotiating table. It’s a better time for Islamabad to get their positive influence over Kabul and strengthen their friendship.