An offer for peace with Taliban

Published - March 03, 2018 07:15 pm IST

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Indonesian Vice President Muhammad Jusuf Kalla and Afghanistan First Lady Rula Ghani attend a peace and security cooperation conference in Kabul, Afghanistan February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Indonesian Vice President Muhammad Jusuf Kalla and Afghanistan First Lady Rula Ghani attend a peace and security cooperation conference in Kabul, Afghanistan February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

After years of escalating violence and rising civilian casualties in Afghanistan, perpetrated largely by the Taliban insurgency, the Afghan government has offered to negotiate a peace deal with the group. President Ashraf Ghani proposed a comprehensive and rather generous offer to the Taliban on Wednesday at the second Kabul Process, an international security conference.

The proposal offers the Taliban, which has been fighting the government since 2001, a chance to end the war at the negotiating table. In exchange for a ceasefire, the government says, those Taliban members willing to renounce violence can have a “peaceful and respectful life”. Political recognition, prisoner release, passports to Taliban members and visas to their families, as well as office space in Kabul, are also on the cards.

While the Taliban has not provided any definite response to the offer, it has shown an unsteady willingness to negotiate, while simultaneously mounting stronger offensives against the Afghan and international forces. In fact, the offer comes immediately after the Taliban called for talks with the U.S. In an open letter to the American people and Congress, it appealed for a “peaceful resolution”.

“This is the most that can be expected of us to offer,” Javid Faisal, spokesperson to the Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, told this reporter. “Now it is up to the Taliban to take the next step,” he added.

Previous attempts at peace talks have not yielded any conclusive outcome. However, the latest offer addresses a host of Taliban demands. Additionally, the current government has shown some success in striking deals with militants. Recently, it reached a deal with with the Hizb-e-Islami, a group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former warlord.

Another interesting aspect of this deal is the Afghan government’s offer to allow the Taliban to open an office in Kabul, validating its status as a political group. This offer has raised concerns among many Afghans who fled Kabul under the Taliban regime in the second half of 1990s. Mr. Faisal, however, argued that it is better for the peace process that the Taliban has an office in Kabul, as opposed to in Quetta or Islamabad. “Having a Kabul office will ensure the process is entirely Afghan-owned,” he said. “It will not only give us a chance to have direct access to them, but will also allow them to speak their own minds without the influence of another party.”

War and peace

However, while this offer may seem like a big step forward, there are some obvious hurdles that could potentially derail the effort. Most prominent of those is a lack of clarity on the Taliban’s most crucial demand — withdrawal of the U.S. troops. The proposal has a reference to “negotiation of… any contested aspect of the international community’s future role in Afghanistan”. This, in the opinion of security analysts Thomas Ruttig and Jelena Bjelica, is “a clear hint that the presence or withdrawal of the foreign troops could be dealt with in any future peace talks”.

Additionally, the Afghan and NATO forces in have also stepped up their offensive against the Taliban in past few months, targeting the group’s “bases” and drug labs that finance its insurgency. “Our goal is to help bring about a peaceful solution to this war,” John Nicholson, the U.S. Commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said at a security meeting in Parwan on Friday. “But we also know that sometimes peace is not possible until you put more pressure on the enemy,” he added.

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