After nearly two decades of war, the Afghan peace negotiations opened on Saturday, September 12, in Doha, the capital of Qatar, aiming to bring an end to nearly 20 year-long bloody conflict in Afghanistan. Some foreign diplomats including US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, were on attendance too.

Under the US-Taliban peace deal, Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban are to discuss a power-sharing deal. On February 29, Washington signed a deal with the Taliban’s Qatar office which stipulated the US to withdraw forces from Afghanistan and required the Taliban to join a US-facilitated reconciliation process. Under the deal and as a trust building measures for peace settlement, the Afghan government released 5,000 Taliban prisoners, who were held by the government, in return the Taliban set free 1,000 Afghan security forces, who were kept under their custody.

Tough issues will be raised in talks

A 20-member negotiations team, including three women, will talk to Taliban negotiating team in face-to-face meetings, discussing a range of issues which are contentious for two sides. The Afghan team, which is picked to represent the ethnically- diversified Afghan society in talks with the fundamentalist Taliban, will raise issues of women rights, constitutional rule, and minority rights.

The Afghan appointed peace delegates will be led by Massom Stanekzai, a former chief of intelligence. Mr. Stanekzai is accompanied by the chairperson of High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, and acting Afghan foreign minister, Hanif Atmar. The Taliban negotiating team will be led by Abdul Hakim Haqqani, the newly appointed chief for Taliban negotiating team, who has served as shadow chief justice of the Taliban.

The Taliban fighters on the ground still hold guns though their leaders have agreed to open talks with old foe, the Afghan government. According to Afghan security officials, as many as 57 civilians lost their lives in Taliban attacks over last week across the country.

Abdullah Abdullah, who was leading the Afghan delegates in Doha, speaking at the opening ceremony today, September 12, said the ongoing war has no military solution and winner.

The Taliban side, too, has expressed hope for end of the bloody conflict in Afghanistan which has claimed thousands of lives and displaced a large number of population in the country.

After years of fighting against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, in 2014, Washington, under President Obama, concluded to open talks with the group. US efforts for a political settlement with the insurgent group shaped foundation of Taliban’s Qatar office, which has been serving as conduit and channel between the US government and Taliban insurgency. Finally after years of efforts, in 2018, the US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, opened direct talks with Taliban representatives. The two sides inked a deal on February 29, with US promising to pull out troops and the Taliban making commitment to cut ties with al-Qaeda and ISIS, and not let Afghan territory to be used for attacks against US and its ally nations.

The Taliban peace policy, however, appears surrounded by ambiguity. Taliban spokespersons have deliberately escaped giving details about their peace policies.

Victims’ representatives are absent

As peace talks open between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators, rights activists in Afghanistan urge the parties to take a representative of Afghan victims on board of peace negotiations. Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, in a statement issued on Saturday, September 12, called on all parties to hear voices of war victims.

But Taliban’s stance on rights of war victims is unclear—with some Taliban leaders justifying that war has cost blood on both sides.

The road ahead of the intra-Afghan talks is bumpy, complicated and difficult. The Afghan government is insistent, saying that hard-gains Afghanistan has made over last nearly two decades must be preserved in any power-sharing deal with the Taliban. A constitutional rule, human rights, women’s rights to education and work, minority rights, freedom of press and freedom of speech are issues, the Taliban have a different interpretation of. In retrospect, the group showed zero tolerance for freedom of speech and women’s rights to education and work.

The intra-Afghan talks might take months, perhaps years, to come to an inclusive conclusion which bring a long-lasting peace to a country which has been plunged in a bloody war. The two sides will have tough time and hard tones in coming multiple rounds of talks.

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