Time for Peace Talks with Taliban
The Taliban’s recent attacks on Afghan security forces in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Farah are intended to demoralize Afghan forces beset by casualties and desertions since NATO combat forces pulled out in late 2014. Recently the insurgents have stormed a number of major police and army bases and government facilities across the country clearly demonstrating that security is deteriorating across the country and the Afghan government is losing its grip on power. The Taliban has increased its territorial and population control in the past year according to a recent Pentagon report that the Taliban now control not less than a third of the country.
It is very much evident that there cannot only be a military solution to the Taliban insurgency. A peace process with the Taliban is almost certainly the best way to end the war in Afghanistan as a negotiated settlement that is more achievable than a military victory and more desirable than an endless military stalemate. This ongoing conflict is severely affecting reconstruction efforts and increasing the suffering of Afghanis. Moreover, it’s making the country unstable and a fragile state which is helping ISIS and other extremists to increase their local footprints.
The Taliban has condemned and countered the Islamic State in Afghanistan, which suggests that the group is not allied to the global jihadist outfits that currently pose the greatest threat to Western interests. Hence it is comparatively easier to engage the Taliban in talks as compared to Jihadist outfits of the Middle East which have global aspirations.
One of the main conditions for any peace talks to succeed is the realization that both sides cannot win the war. Both parties, that is the Afghan Government and the Taliban, are aware of this aspect. The Taliban are also feeling pressure from a growing body count and from defectors who have claimed allegiance to the Islamic State. The Afghan government also realizes that without the support of its foreign allies its security forces can’t tackle the Taliban insurgency on its own.
There should not be any pre-conditions from either side to start the peace talks like- disarming of insurgents or withdrawal of foreign forces. The peace process can even be launched while fighting continues as history has demonstrated that those kinds of peace talks have been successful. During the American Revolution, the end of the Algerian revolt against the French, and civil wars in Namibia, El Salvador, and Angola, fighting continued during negotiations and sometimes spiked as one side tried to break the will of the other.
A variety of diplomatic initiatives should continue but fundamentally, there is a need to get the parties to talk to one another directly. It is notable that the Taliban still maintain its representative office in Doha. This political office has authority to negotiate on behalf of its leadership. This office was able to secure the release of five Taliban members from the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in 2014, in exchange for American captive Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. The starting point of any future peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban can be through this political office of the Taliban.
A direct line of communication between the Afghan government and the Taliban Doha office can be established. Employing indirect communication lines can also prove effective, including forging ceasefires at local levels, detainee releases and engaging intermediaries, such as tribal leaders, who maintain contacts with both sides. A political settlement could take years to conclude and there should be no rush to launch premature formal negotiations. This does not detract from the urgency of undertaking informal preparations. Later on, when the right environment is achieved for the launching of formal talks then measures like an interim cease-fire on a national level which halts the fighting to allow a more comprehensive accord to be cobbled can be discussed.
In addition to this the Afghan government should also work upon the grievances that are fueling the insurgency such as corruption, injustice, warlordism, and the marginalization of various tribal and ethnic groups. Given the advantage of its strategic location, Afghanistan functions as a land bridge connecting South Asia, Central Asia, Eurasia, and the Middle East. Peace and security in Afghanistan will be vital for broader economic cooperation in the region. It is also noteworthy that peace in Afghanistan means peace in the region therefore the regional countries can play a vital role in bringing peace and security in Afghanistan. So whole hearted regional support should be given to any Afghan peace process. The international community and regional powers should be actively involved in any Afghan peace-building initiative as interlocutors or observers. Their engagement is crucial for the success of any peace efforts. The role of a third party can be significant in bringing impartiality, a greater degree of patience, and balance to the negotiating table.