The Taliban’s Challenges of Starting Inter-Afghan Talks

Published February 9th, 2022 - 10:01 GMT
The Taliban’s Challenges of Starting Inter-Afghan Talks
A Taliban fighter mans a post on the roof top of the main gate of Laghman University in Mihtarlam, Laghman province on February 2, 2022. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP)

By Farzad Ramezani Bonesh

Following the US-Afghan peace talks and the signing of the Doha Agreement, inter-Afghan or Afghan-Afghan peace talks between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar began in September 2020.

The negotiation process continued despite the continuation of the challenges and ups and downs. However, the United States agreed to withdraw its troops in 2021. But the trend was such that the Taliban intensified their attacks during the talks. Ashraf Ghani fled the country at the same time as the US withdrew from Afghanistan, and the Taliban effectively took control of most of the country, and the talks were fruitless.

With the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan, the activity of the Supreme National Reconciliation Council chaired by Abdullah Abdullah was suspended. In fact, the fledgling process of peace between Afghans, which could have been a turning point in Afghanistan and balanced power between different ethnic, religious and social groups, failed. At the same time, the question is whether the current situation could be a new opportunity to start inter-Afghan talks?

The situation of the Taliban

In recent months, the Afghan-Afghan or Afghan peace talks have not received much attention from the Taliban, and the Taliban which have claimed that the 40-year-old crisis in Afghanistan is over, is in a triumphant mood. The Taliban considered the Islamic Emirate to be an inclusive government which has all the criteria to be recognized by the international community.

But it is clear that they have faced serious crises such as lack of international recognition, freezing of assets, widespread poverty, inability to maintain government offices, continued civil disobedience, especially by Afghan women, and other security crises. This has led, at least tactically, to a greater willingness of the Taliban to restart negotiation between Afghans.

In recent months, apart from some failed internal talks between the Taliban and the National Resistance Front, Pakistan has also tried to hold meetings between the Taliban and the opposition. Even there has been a meeting between Pakistan’s ISI officials and former Afghan leaders in Turkey  in this regard.

In addition, the Tehran talks were the first formal talks between the Taliban and the National Resistance Front led by Ahmad Massoud; Negotiations mediated by Iran to find a peaceful solution. Several sources have since reported Moscow's role in hosting talks between the Taliban and the National Resistance Front. Russia has repeatedly stated that it is ready to host the Taliban and its opposition groups.

In addition, Khalilzad's visit to the Qatari capital, the visit of Qatari special envoy to Kabul, and his meeting with Sirajuddin Haqqani and Abdullah Abdullah could be other signs of the resumption of inter-Afghan talks and the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, although Taliban sees the direct meetings between the Taliban and Afghan civil society representatives and women leaders  in Norway as a constructive exchange, but it is certainly a kind of insistence on its strategic positions alongside the Taliban's tactical retreat in moving towards inter-Afghan dialogue and addressing humanitarian, economic, social and political issues.
 

Challenges of starting inter-Afghan talks

Creating a fundamental roadmap

While over the past six months, the Taliban have held consultations with Kabul-based politicians such as Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah and also had several rounds of formal and informal talks with their opponents abroad, they are still concerned about the process and mechanisms, and have not reached a common ground yet.

Therefore, there is a need for formalization of the national consultation process, agreement on working on a legal document or draft of a new constitution, consideration of legitimacy mechanisms, referendum at the national level, prioritization of key issues, etc.

The future of the Afghanistan

The Taliban advocates a centralized government (not Feudalism) which is strong, and independent, but there are fundamental ambiguities about the structure desired by the Taliban and the rule of law, the legislature, the separation of powers, how people participate, the fundamental rights of citizens, and the role of the opposition and minorities.

Therefore, how to reach a win-win agreement or mediation solutions is difficult. Therefore, there is still a possibility of a stalemate and prolonging the peace process.

Internal disputes of the Taliban

The Pashtun Taliban is full of differences of taste and ethnic and tribal views. In recent months, this rivalry and difference between factions has increased. The clashes between some Pashtun-non-Pashtun Taliban commanders in Panjshir, Faryab, Badakhshan, Balkh and Bamyan provinces over the past few months are in fact an important and new stage in the Pashtun-non-Pashtun Taliban divide.

Hardliners oppose any compromise on power-sharing and government concessions, arguing that the time for further power-sharing is over and that the opposition must accept the new realities. Under these circumstances, the Taliban's internal divisions could have a far-reaching impact on any negotiations between Afghans and its outcome.

Danger of civil war in early spring

In fact, the Taliban opposition are still active inside and outside Afghanistan. The Afghan National Resistance Front has said that in the coming months, resistance will begin in the four corners of Afghanistan and has called talks with the Taliban fruitless.  

On the other hand, personalities and groups such as Amrullah Saleh, Supreme Council of National Resistance, Government in Exile, Parliament of Afghan Women in Exile in Greece, Leadership Council of the Government of Afghanistan, Hazara Resistance Front, and new anti-Taliban military fronts called "Afghan Freedom Front"  and Mohammad Baqer Moblaghzadeh are waiting for the beginning of spring.

Many opponents do not even accept holding a Loya Jirga relying on the Taliban's gun, and some believe that only a confrontation from a position of power can force the Taliban to accept inter-Afghan dialogue. Meanwhile, the formation of a government in exile or the "transitional government" of the National Resistance Front, consultations between opposition leaders and Ahmad Massoud with international forces to form a coalition and recognizing its legitimacy, the large quantities of weapons in the hands of the people, increase the risk of insurgency, and … can actually increase the spread of civil war in early spring.

Although the outbreak of civil war may lead to the withdrawal of the Taliban, it may also add to the opposition's growing pressure on the Taliban.

The role of foreign actors

Actors such as Norway have a history of mediating in conflicts, including in the Middle East, Sri Lanka and Colombia. Moscow and Tehran are also ready to host talks between the Taliban and other parties in Afghanistan. But unless more pressure is put on the Taliban by regional and international actors, the Taliban will not be able to reach an inter-Afghan dialogue in the short term.

On the other hand, some foreign actors view any inter-Afghan dialogue from the perspective of their national interests. The remarks of some foreign leaders can also be seen as a return to the scenario of the disintegration of Afghanistan if the Taliban does not pay attention to the formation of a comprehensive government. However, if more pressure is put on the Taliban by major actors, or if actors like India  are willing to give widespread support to the Taliban, the Taliban will be forced to back down from accepting genuine inter-Afghan talks.

Vision

Although, the continued isolation of new officials in Kabul is likely to reinforce voices in the leadership about the Taliban retreat and compromise, but the first step will be to prepare the Taliban for participation and follow-up the inter-Afghan dialogue process. The US-Taliban Doha 2020 agreement was the basis for the Taliban to enter into talks with the Afghan government and other political forces, but now they even seem to be blocking the foreign travel of Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah.

The Taliban's insistence on not forming an inclusive government could also make the opposition more determined to start a war. In addition, given the deep-rooted ethnic issues in Afghanistan and its mountainous geography, the war is likely to escalate further next spring. It should be noted, however, that given the Loya Jirga 's poor performance in Afghanistan, the talks should not lead to the implicit recognition of the "Taliban government" without the real acceptance of all opposition groups.

In fact, it is difficult to start a comprehensive dialogue between Afghans in Afghanistan, and it is more difficult to be fruitful and comprehensive, so we cannot hope that it will be fruitful in the short term. But consultations and talks can provide a process of relative achievement of the demands of the two main parties.

However, given all the political, security, economic and international variables against them, the Taliban are now more eager to be engaged in inter-Afghan’s negotiations than they have been for the past six months. This opportunity can be achieved if the Taliban feel more the need to negotiate between the Afghans and have a strategic view of it, not a tactical view and a way to reduce pressure on them.

 


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