THE Afghan peace process is in a critical phase as several developments within and outside Afghanistan are likely to have an impact on negotiations. Firstly, a new administration will enter the White House in January, and it remains to be seen if Joe Biden will continue Donald Trump’s policy of pulling American troops out of Afghanistan, or adopt a different path. Moreover, there is little forward movement in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, though the fact that negotiations are continuing is in itself positive. This is especially true considering the fact that both sides continue to talk peace and make war at the same time. Considering all these variables, the recent visit to Pakistan by a high-powered Taliban delegation carries much weight. On Friday, the delegation representing the Doha-based Taliban Political Commission led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar met the prime minister in Islamabad. According to the PM Office both sides discussed progress on the Afghan peace process while Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated the fact that there is “no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan”. Indeed, nearly two decades after the US invaded Afghanistan, and the Taliban took up arms against foreign forces, this fact is very much evident. Earlier, the Taliban delegation also met the foreign minister, with Shah Mahmood Qureshi saying the next round of intra-Afghan dialogue was due to begin on Jan 5, though questions remain about the venue.
From this point on, it is primarily the responsibility of the Afghan government and the Taliban to take the peace process forward and attain a workable solution. This will no doubt be difficult, mainly because violence has not stopped in Afghanistan even as peace talks continue. For example, while the Taliban delegation was visiting this country, at least 13 policemen were killed in Afghanistan. If peace talks are to succeed, such acts of violence must end, especially those that target civilians. The Taliban political wing must let their field units know that attacks risk jeopardising talks. While foreign forces can contribute to peace in Afghanistan by not interfering in its internal affairs and facilitating dialogue between Afghan factions, it is the country’s internal stakeholders — the government, the Taliban and tribal/ ethnic leaders — who hold the key to peace. That is why Kabul and the Taliban must put in all-out efforts to make the peace process succeed, or risk extending Afghanistan’s war.
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2020