New developments in the peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban have raised both hopes and concerns of the Afghan people.
In the latest round of meeting between the U.S. special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Taliban representatives, which lasted six days, both sides agreed in principle to the framework of a deal. While there are several unverified accounts in the media as regards this framework, one thing is certain — the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“We made progress on vital issues in our discussions and agreed to agreements in principle on a couple of very important issues,” Mr. Khalilzad told the media in Kabul on Monday, when he arrived in the Afghan capital to inform President Ashraf Ghani on the new developments. Due to strong resistance from the Taliban, the Afghan government has not yet been fully included in the talks. “There is a lot more work to be done before we can say we have succeeded in our efforts, but I believe for the first time that I can say that we have made significant progress,” Mr. Khalilzad noted.
Mr. Khalilzad also attempted to quell the rumours surrounding the discussion of an interim government. Several international media houses reported that the proposal for an interim administration was discussed with the Taliban, raising concerns over the reasons for the delay of the upcoming presidential election. “We met with Ambassador Khalilzad and he rejected discussion on an interim government. He quite openly said that the future political system is for the Afghans to decide and not something they [the U.S.] want to control,” Hekmat Azamy, deputy director at the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, a Kabul-based think tank, told this writer. Mr. Azamy, however, speculated that an interim government could encourage the Taliban to accept a more intra-Afghan dialogue since the current government will no longer be a legitimate, constitutional body after the end of Mr. Ghani’s current term. “You remove the term ‘government’ from the Afghan government, the Taliban will talk to them,” he reasoned.
However, despite assurances from both Mr. Khalilzad and the Afghan government, several Afghans have expressed concerns over a framework that will allow the return of the Taliban; this is more evident among vulnerable groups like women and minorities, who suffered under the extremist regime in the late 1990s. “The first [point of] fear me and a lot of women who are educated and working outside [have] is that we might lose our freedom once again. Second, our schools will be closed again,” Mariam Alimi, an Afghan cameraperson, told this writer, adding that she fears severe restrictions will be imposed on life in Afghanistan. Ms. Alimi’s views are not isolated and several posts on social networks reflected this anxiety.
Responding to critics, Mr. Khalilzad took to social media on Thursday, urging Afghans and stakeholders to be patient. “You can’t eat an elephant in one bite,” he wrote, adding that work on all issues was still in progress. “We made significant progress on two vital issues — counterterrorism and troop withdrawal. That doesn’t mean we’re done. We’re not even finished with these issues yet, and there is still work to be done on other vital issues like intra-Afghan dialogue and a complete ceasefire,” he said.
“Sceptics have rushed to judgment based on just the first part of a much larger effort, as though we have a completed agreement. And a 40-year-old war won’t be resolved in one meeting, even if that meeting runs for close to a week,” he said.