The big hurdle blocking the long-anticipated, landmark intra-Afghan talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government was lifted as the controversial prison release process was brought to an end last week. However, small glitches still remain that need to be dealt with. For instance, the Taliban claim not all of their prisoners are released whereas the government says it’s all ready to start negotiations but is waiting for the insurgents because the ball is in their court now. Meanwhile, in the run-up to the intra-Afghan talks, the fighting is raging unabated as the insurgents are worried about losing grip on their foot-soldiers if they give up violence, signaling their distrust on the peace process and bringing under question their resolve in terms of making peace.
It’s commonplace for warring sides, as seen throughout the history of wars, to blame each other for any mishap that occurs but sadly the downside here is that it’s the Afghans who bear the brunt of their continued hostilities. There is seemingly no excuse left for kick-starting the intra-Afghan talks, other than petty technical issues – hopefully, they won’t last long. The road to peace is undoubtedly full of ups and downs and setbacks; hence, for that purpose, a due preparation should be made and the worst expected. There are a lot of issues that need proper deliberation and discussion before the sides settle. It took the Taliban more than 18 months to reach an agreement with the US and thus it’s not unlikely that talks between the Afghan government and Taliban would span any less.
The main essential item that must top the agenda of the intra-Afghan talks should be the declaration of a ceasefire. It’s a unanimous call from the international community, the Afghans and the government. In a recent statement, heads of mission of the European Union and Canada also asked the Taliban to respect this call. Meanwhile, the issue of preserving the democratic and human rights gains over the past 19 years is also one of the many crucial matters. The EU and Canada stood by the Afghan government that a negotiated political settlement must ensure “human rights, rule of law and democratic freedoms, including the increased respect for the rights and freedoms of women and girls.” These are some of the demands that need to be properly addressed and taken up with the Taliban because their resolution would give them a chance to alter the bad image of their 1990’s era in the public’s perceptions. Moreover, the Taliban would also have some demands that would need reconciliation with that of the Afghan people. Therefore, compromise would be the key to being successful in the talks and reaching a fruitful result acceptable to all sides.
For now, the attention should be diverted to small hindrances blocking the launch of intra-Afghan talks. One of them being the seven Taliban captives whose liberty has been opposed by Western states because they killed their citizens. But headway is being made as some sources familiar with the talks reveal that these hardcore inmates are supposed to be shifted to Qatar under certain conditions and that efforts are ongoing so that France and Australia concede their release.
In the meantime, using a high level of violence as a means to gain leverage in the talks should be ceased. The warring sides must have been disabused by now of the notion that war is the solution to the conflict because it is not. It’s true that making peace is indeed harder than making war but only finding the middle ground would make peace a win-win for all sides and a truce is a cornerstone and sine qua non for reaching that end. Therefore, the warring sides, especially the Taliban, should say yes to the ceasefire. Agreeing to an armistice will indicate their goodwill gesture about peacemaking and debunk the idea that they are trying to overthrow the Afghan government by force. The only Achilles heel which is making them reluctant to agree to the ceasefire is their belief that once its fighting force shuns violence, it would be hard to regroup them in case something goes wrong with the peace process. But there shouldn’t be that much cynicism. If there is truly an intent force peace, then regrouping is totally out of the question in the post-truce period.