Afghanize the peace talks!


While negotiators are on a pause from intra-Afghan talks until the fifth of January, a timely and essential matter of shifting the talks home has become one of the hot-button issues. Proposed by the Afghan government and endorsed by the Senate, this move, if observed, will provide a chance to make the talks truly Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.  The Taliban were quick to scorn the calls for this proposal. However, for building upon the recent breakthrough of the procedural rules’ finalization, choosing a venue for the talks within Afghanistan entails multiple benefits. The three-week break from the talks gives the negotiators ample time to contemplate and ponder over this positive change in the course of talks. 

First and foremost, the daunting question crossing public minds is ‘do Afghans own the peace process?’ Executing the remaining steps of crucial intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taliban inside Afghanistan is going to serve as a step towards achieving that end and making the process Afghan-owned de jure. Until now, the famous rhetoric describes the talks US-brokered, which shouldn’t be so. America’s handling of the negotiations serves to exude a strong sense of dominance while at the same time, other foreign actors also influence the progress. So, Afghans should talk face-to-face inside their home country, thereby cutting short foreigners’ intervention. 

Secondly, the key stakeholders of Afghan peace constitute the ordinary public. All that matters is gaining popular public support. For the Taliban to win the Afghan masses’ hearts, taking this leap of faith is not an exorbitant demand. The move will tip the balance in favor of the public, something that should be the ultimate goal because it’s ordinary Afghans who bear most of the brunt of the ongoing war. Picking a venue for talks within Afghanistan will restore public trust as they would rest assured that the negotiating sides are serious and sincere about the talks. 

Thirdly, the Taliban justify their rejection to accept the offer by the fact that the right circumstances don’t exist yet, as they said the “spoilers of the peace process, by making such a demand, see their power and personal interests in danger.” However, it shouldn’t be overlooked that it’s what many Afghans desire now and spoilers would be those who’d create obstacles to that development by trying to sabotage it in one way or another. As the code of conduct is finalized and initial lists of agenda items are shared between the sides, the required trust is built; hence, the talks are at a stage where there is no need for third-party mediators. Afghans are negotiating with each other and that’s what matters; therefore, the circumstances are ripe now more than ever.

The Taliban have so far denied public calls for a reduction in violence or a ceasefire, but giving Afghans the chance to own the process is the least they can do. It’s not to say that the international community should be bypassed; it can still play a role in being the guarantor for monitoring compliance on everything that is being agreed upon between the sides. However, continuing the talks within the country will help provide a chance for the negotiators to know about the ground realities. 

As exploratory meetings and formalities are sorted out, at this vital phase of the Afghan peace process, it’s crucial to give Afghan masses a sense that the negotiating sides are actually paying heed to their demands and concerns. Drawing lessons from recently negotiated settlements globally, the Colombian peace settlement took around four years to strike an agreement. Although the context differs, it can be expected that Afghan talks would last somewhat more or less. Therefore, given such complexities lying on the path ahead, translating the rhetoric of Afghan-owned and Afghan-led into practice will go a long way in easing tensions. Afghanizing the talks is a win-win for Afghan stakeholders, but spoilers and those who don’t wish to lose clutch on the talks’ strings would certainly oppose it.