US and Taliban will resume talks despite differences

As the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) is struggling to announce the preliminary result of election and the two top candidates are waiting for the announcement, efforts are underway to resume peace talks with the Taliban.   

The 2019 Afghan presidential election was overshadowed by peace talks between US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban in Doha, capital of Qatar. The talks lasted for almost 11 months and the two sides were, as Khalilzad tweeted, at the threshold of signing an agreement. The election campaign, however, got momentum after US President Donald Trump called off the US-Taliban peace talks and cancelled a planned meeting with President Ghani and the Taliban representatives which was scheduled to happen at Camp David.

Under tightened security, the 2019 election was held on September 28, 2019. Some 7.9 million Afghans had registered to vote but nearly 2.7 million Afghans turned out to vote even with threats posed by the Taliban insurgents.   

After cancellation of the talks, the Taliban delegation repeatedly called on the US to turn to negotiating table. The group underlined that Afghan war had no solution other than political resolution. Taliban representatives visited capitals of Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan to consult the Russians, Chines, Iranians and Pakistanis on the peace process.  

Their last visit to Islamabad coincided with Khalilzad’s trip to the Pakistani capital. Pakistan PM Imran Khan announced that Islamabad will support resuming peace talks between the US and Taliban. In Afghanistan, political parties along with prominent Afghan politicians including former National Security Advisor Haneef Atmar and former President Hamid Karzai stressed the two parties to resume peace talks. The presidential ticket led by Chief Executive Abdullah also insisted on peace talks.

Jafar Mahdavi, an ex-member of parliament who is the secretary general of Mellat political party, believes the warring parties are convinced that the Afghan war is a stalemate which has no military solution.

The Americans are convinced that peace settlement with the Taliban is the only tactic to end US longest war, Mahdavi said. “To my knowledge, Khalilzad has remained in contact with Taliban office in Doha even after cancellation of the talks,” he claimed.

Abbas Farasoo, a PhD candidate who follows Afghan peace talks closely, says the warring parties are seemingly convinced that political settlement is the only solution to end the Afghan conflict.

Mr. Farasoo said Pakistan—as the doyenne of Taliban insurgency— is winner of the Afghan war but insisted that bringing the Taliban back to negotiating table will be costly for Afghanistan.

Madavi, too, believes that Islamabad has the upper hand when it comes to inclusion of the Taliban in future Kabul government.

Maintaining ties with the Taliban and the Kabul government the regional powers—Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan—are trying to protect their national interests. A close hug of Taliban’s representatives by the regional powers suggests that the regional nations prepare themselves for a post US pull out from Afghanistan, Farasoo said.  

Leading Afghan politicians in Kabul, however, are not united when it comes to peace settlement with the Taliban. The two leading candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, who expect to lead the new government, are divided on peace talks. Ghani insists on peace process but says ceasefire is a precondition for peace talks while Abdullah presses on immediate restart of the talks.

According to Mahdavi the internal differences on Afghan peace talks reflect the external divisions existing on the process. Ashraf Ghani backed by India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, insists on Kabul-led peace process whilst Abdullah seems to be on the same page with the US, Pakistan and the Taliban.

One thing is sure, though there are internal and external differences over peace with the Taliban, the US and Taliban will resume talks.   

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