The road to peace in Afghanistan via Doha?

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani/Image: Getty

On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban to open its office in Afghanistan. He said, “…I will give it to them in Kabul, Nangarhar or Kandahar by tomorrow”. The offer was outrightly rejected by the Taliban. Taliban spokesman Sohail Shahin reiterated his demand, “Our demand about having an official political office is clear, we want that our office in Doha is recognized by the international community and the United Nations. In an interview with NBC news, Former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell highlighted the complexities associated towards bringing peace in the country. Among these, he mentioned the need to bring all parties on the table to resolve the conflict. So in 2011, US officials formally started peace negotiations with the Taliban. The Taliban demanded that their senior leaders must be released from Guantanamo Bay while the US asked them to maintain better relations with the Afghan government.

Guests arrive for the opening ceremony of the new Taliban political office in Doha on June 18, 2013. The office is intended to open dialogue with the international community and Afghan groups for a “peaceful solution” in Afghanistan office spokesman Mohammed Naim told reporters. AFP PHOTO / FAISAL AL-TIMIMI (Photo credit should read FAISAL AL-TIMIMI/AFP/Getty Images)

After the 2013 incident of Taliban offices displaying the Taliban flag and insignia. The Afghan government cut off all ties with Taliban leaders and requested the Qatar government to close these offices.Post-2014 US withdrawals, the resurgence of the Taliban has strengthened their position on negotiation talks. Since 2017, the Taliban has requested negotiating parties do not include the Afghan government in the peace talks. While Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has expressed concerns over the Taliban shutting his administration out of negotiations talks. Even though, he repeated earlier offers to give the group a secure official address to aid future peace talks between the two parties, the Taliban has rejected the offers saying it is interfering with the accelerating peace talks.

The problem with the non-incorporation of the Afghan government in the peace talks is manifold. It brings out the same story of the Taliban trying to make a global statement and severing ties with the democratic establishment in Afghanistan. This would make way for their own rule of law in the country. But there is a different narrative as well, the current unity government is not very strong due to internal problems among the parties. Further with Afghan presidential elections scheduled in 2019, it makes for a very little incentive talking with the current regime in Afghanistan. The Taliban has its own propaganda which could get weakened if they start talking with the government in Kabul.

In September 2018, the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as special advisor on Afghanistan with an objective to bring opportunities for reconciliation among parties is in full swing. In 2017, Ambassador Khalilzad in one of the interviews with the Council of Foreign Relations said, “We don’t want Taliban or any terrorist organization to take over Afghanistan.” He goes on to say that the peace process would require a lot more carrots and a lot more sticks. This clearly implies that the idea is to consider Taliban demands but maintain close guard so as to not blow up the peace process. The biggest problem associated with the negotiations is the sanctuary issue in Pakistan. Time and again several leaders have pointed out that the Taliban’s ability to continue insurgency lies in their safe havens in Pakistan.

Then there is the need to overcome the Prisoner’s dilemma associated with the peace in Afghanistan. This has made all parties look for opportunities to finally bring peace in the region with their own narratives. In the case of President Ghani offer, it has a lot to do with the upcoming elections in Afganistan. If the Taliban takes the Afghan government onboard, there is a great incentive for the president. It would help him, project to the Afghan people his efforts to end the bloody conflict in the country. But with his government’s non-inclusion, the issue is at a very delicate juncture where the United States has to balance parties in Afghanistan and regional parties such as India and Pakistan who are critical to resolving the long-standing conflict in the region.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Utkal Tripathy

Utkal Tripathy is a Former Research Intern at The Kootneeti. (Feb - March 2019). He can be reached at utkalt@yahoo.com

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