Explained | Talking with Taliban

Talks proceeded in Qatar on July 8, 2019   | Photo Credit: AFP

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan met U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington on June 22 at a time when the U.S. is in advanced stages of peace talks with the Taliban. Both leaders have reaffirmed their commitment and cooperation toward bringing about peace in Afghanistan, despite the recent tensions in bilateral relations.

Taliban officials and a group of Afghan representatives, including some government officials, met on July 7-8 in Qatar to discuss the future of Afghanistan. This is the first time that the Taliban and other stakeholders in Afghanistan have come together to debate their views. All Afghan representatives attended the conference in their ‘personal capacity’ as the Taliban has refused to negotiate with the Afghan government. After two days, the talks ended with each side agreeing on a basic ‘road map for peace’, including ‘reducing civilian casualties to zero’. While the dialogue ended on a positive note, Taliban-led attacks continued to rock Afghan cities. Even as all sides have offered support for a peaceful settlement to the crisis, multiple issues continue to rile the peace process.

What are the key issues?

The form of government that would be established after the U.S. withdraws its troops from Afghanistan is an issue of considerable debate. The Taliban hasn’t recognised the current Afghan Constitution, and wants to bring about an “Islamic administration” even as the country is officially known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

A ceasefire is a prerequisite to negotiations. The Afghan government forces and the Taliban have been fighting heavily this year and civilian casualties have soared. The UN reported that since it started to document civilian casualties 10 years ago, more civilians have lost their lives to Afghan and American forces in the first quarter of 2019 than to the Taliban. An attack on a government building in Kabul on July 1 and a suicide bombing on a national intelligence compound in Ghazni on July 7 have aggravated public aversion to war. But it is believed that the Taliban makes these attacks coinciding with the talks in an attempt to seek leverage in the negotiations.

Women’s rights is another serious issue that invites polarising opinions. The Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001 was notorious for their treatment of women. In the 18 years of the civilian government, Afghan women have come to enjoy a lot more freedom, at least in urban centres. In the talks, participants finally agreed that women’s rights shall be upheld ‘within the Islamic framework of Islamic values’. Some fear that the ambiguity in the resolution might be exploited in the future to deprive women of their fundamental rights.

What did they talk about?

The inter-Afghan talks marked the first time the Taliban engaged in debates, breaking the tradition of reading prepared statements. The New York Times reported that emotions ran high in the conversations. When Afghan representatives spoke of how they lost their loved ones to Taliban attacks, Taliban officials described how civilians had died in American attacks too and the long detentions faced by their fellow Taliban soldiers.

A resolution was published by the parties to the talk in which eight broad points of consensus were listed, including ‘minimising civilian casualties to zero’. But most of these statements fell short of substantial agreement on specific issues. The resolution did not include a timeline to follow through on commitments nor did it make a mention of further talks between the parties.

The intra-Afghan talks occurred in the backdrop of the seventh round of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban, which also happened in Qatar. A gap of two days in the U.S.-Taliban dialogue reserved a block of time for the Afghan stakeholders to achieve a settlement about their future.

How are U.S.-Taliban talks proceeding?

The negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban hinge on two vital issues. The Taliban wants the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. wants a peace deal by September. Afghanistan presidential elections are scheduled for the month.

In return for troops withdrawal, the U.S. wants the Taliban to ensure that Afghan soil is not used by any terrorist group launching attacks abroad. Once the U.S. and the Taliban strike a deal on these two critical issues, the latter would also have to commit to negotiate with Afghan stakeholders and work out a consensus on a ceasefire.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 10:05:06 PM |

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