Afghan Talks: A Road Leading to Peace?

The preliminary preparations for the intra-Afghan talks are taking shape in Qatar, aiming to set the stage for the official negotiations that were called for in the US-Taliban agreement signed at the beginning of the year. 

In my opinion, the establishment of long-term stability in Afghanistan will also serve the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran, specifically in relation to the withdrawal of foreign forces, fighting and containing extremist groups, repatriating refugees, and combating the production and trafficking of narcotics.

However, it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of the current intra-Afghan talks without a deep understanding of the wording and the spirit of the US-Taliban agreement.

In the Doha agreement, the Taliban consolidated all of their demands within a specific framework and timeline; however, they made no promises to address the issue of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, which is a fundamental demand of the Afghan people.

In the classified portion of the agreement, the United States obtained a commitment from the Taliban to not stage attacks on provincial capitals, which might lead to the erosion of morale among the security forces and ordinary citizens.  On the other hand, the Taliban have been granted carte blanche to expand their territorial grip over other areas using their military forces. In fact, the only serious condition asked of the Taliban was to not aid or collaborate with any group that could pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies.

The Taliban correctly self-identify as the champions of the Doha agreement; they have realized that the United States’ vested interest in implementing this agreement will prevent other Afghan socio-political forces from undermining it. The Taliban deem this agreement irreversible, at least as far as its American architects are concerned. The United States’ approach in addressing the issue of prisoner swap and particularly its insistence on releasing the last 400 prisoners – testifies to the accuracy of this view.

The importance of the current peace talks for the Taliban is largely to kick-start the process of lifting sanctions on the group’s senior officials, which is expected to take place within a specific timeframe as outlined in the Doha agreement. Nevertheless, there are no indications that they have come to believe in these negotiations as a venue to reach a comprehensive peace agreement, though one should be hopeful. The Taliban’s attitude to the Afghan government and other political movements is reminiscent of what led to the civil wars of the 1990’s. If–and I emphasize if–this calculation proves true, then we should expect the Taliban to see the peace negotiation process as merely a means to buy more time.

There are major gaps between the demands of the negotiating parties. The Taliban perceive the current (govt) in Afghanistan as illegitimate. It appears that they are tacitly striving to reestablish their Islamic emirate. By conceding to “the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government,” the American architects of the Doha agreement have practically moved past the current Afghan system of governance and guaranteed this new political order. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, with a fragile internal consensus, is attempting to preserve all the accomplishments of the past two decades

We must accept that the essence of the Doha agreement is to abrogate the Bonn Agreement of 2001 and all its inner workings, to make a new regional arrangement in line with Afghanistan’s future, and to change Afghanistan’s domestic political landscape. These new developments grew out of the United States’ reevaluation of its political objectives in this region.

As far as the United States is concerned, the Taliban is an Afghan extremist movement that is pursuing its political ambitions in its own domestic territory. However, the complex structure of the Taliban’s internal relations and its connections with other extremist movements seem to have been deliberately neglected. The recently published reports in the Western media, particularly the latest report by the UN sanctions committee, confirm this failure.

In the grand scheme of things, it appears that the United States is seeking to turn Afghanistan into a geopolitical connecting point in the political economy of the two regions of Central and South Asia.  Making a strategic mistake, the United States is pursuing a vision for peace in Afghanistan that hinges on an overly simplified redefinition of the domestic situation of this country.

At last, it should be noted that the path chosen by the United States (Doha Agreement) cannot lay the foundations for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. This statement is not a disapproval of a nation-wide peace in Afghanistan, which is an inevitable necessity not only for Afghanistan but also for the entire region; the vital issue is the requirement of having a realistic approach to achieve a calculated peace. This agreement has created a supposition of bias towards the Taliban in Afghanistan (and also in the domestic political arena of the United States), which could lead to the gradual formation of unnecessary internal divisions in that country.

Without any doubt, the Taliban is a reality of Afghan society and their participation in governance will guarantee stability and sustainable development in Afghanistan. Although the current system of governance in Afghanistan is not free of its own challenges, granting unilateral concessions to the Taliban, including its demand for structural changes to the Constitution, will only foster the group’s sense of victory and throw the fate of these negotiations into doubt.

The most critical miscalculation that was made in the process of reaching the Doha agreement was the attempt to recreate the political atmosphere of 2002 in Afghanistan by moving beyond the current system of governance and setting off on a path to produce a new political framework in that country. There are no guarantees that this change in strategy will be successful.

By restoring the internal balance that has been rattled by the Doha agreement, supporting the role of the UN in facilitating the peace process, renegotiating parts of the Doha agreement, and settling on a realistic definition of peace, a legitimate intra-Afghan agreement that is accompanied by the necessary guarantees of support from the international community and her neighbors can be reached.

Afghan Talks: A Road Leading to Peace?