The cost of peace: on intra-Afghan talks

Six months after they were first due to be held, intra-Afghan talks bringing the Taliban face-to-face with representatives of the Ashraf Ghani government and Afghan civil society finally got underway in Doha on Saturday. The talks, which were a key outcome of the U.S.-Taliban and U.S.-Afghanistan agreements signed in February this year, have been delayed for many reasons. To begin with, the Taliban set pre-conditions including the release of all its prisoners, while not accepting the basic requirement of a ceasefire. There were also delays over the composition of the Afghan negotiating team led by chief negotiator Masoom Stanekzai, and differences over appointments between the former rivals, President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who was appointed as the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation. There were even concerns over whether the all-male Taliban team would deal with the negotiating team, which includes four women. However, the biggest obstacle was the release of more than 5,000 Taliban prisoners and about 1,000 Afghan soldiers and others held by Taliban militia, as stipulated in the agreements with the U.S. Last month, President Ghani said that he would release all but about 400 who were wanted for “serious crimes”, which led to the Taliban threatening to call off talks, but resolved after a Loya Jirga of representatives approved the release. One final batch of prisoner releases was held up briefly over objections from France and Australia, whose soldiers had been killed by them. The silver lining for India, which otherwise views the reconciliation process with some foreboding, is that the release of all Taliban prisoners has also meant the safe return of three Indian hostages, held since 2018 by the Taliban.

Last Indian hostage returns from Afghanistan, as intra-Afghan talks with Taliban begin in Doha


The hard part begins now. While preliminary rounds held since Saturday have dealt with the structure and logistics, the first task for the negotiators is to declare a permanent ceasefire, and stop violence in Afghanistan that has claimed another 1,300 civilian lives in the first half of 2020. More difficult challenges will emerge as they grapple with the Taliban on how to shape Afghanistan’s future, and whether they can retain the constitution and political processes while bringing the insurgents into the mainstream. With the Ghani government giving the green signal for the talks in Doha, India has modified its stand, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar attended the inaugural ceremony in Doha via videoconferencing; it was the first ever address by an Indian official at a gathering that includes the Taliban (that India still maintains is a terror group). While stating that peace in Afghanistan as a result of an “Afghan-led, Afghan owned” process is a desirable outcome, he made it clear that India hopes it will not come at the cost of gains made by Afghanistan in the post-Taliban era, including democracy, institutions of governance, and the rights of minorities and women.

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 2:50:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-cost-of-peace/article32604087.ece

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