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Long-Awaited Afghan Govt’s ‘Negotiating Team’ Formed: How Close Are We To Real Intra-Afghan Talks? – OpEd

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The Afghan government’s announcement of finalizing a “Negotiating Team” for talks with the Taliban was warmly welcomed by the United States’ special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad who leads the US negotiating team with the Taliban. Mr. Khalilzad wrote on his twitter, “This consensus is a meaningful step,” which can lead us towards the intra-Afghan negotiations. 

The United States has been pushing impatiently to make the peace efforts with the Taliban work so that the grounds for a U.S phased withdrawal from Afghanistan is prepared as is stated in the US-Taliban deal signed last month. 

The 21-member list was released by Afghanistan’s State Ministry for Peace last night, that includes representatives from the Afghan government, political parties, civil societies and women. It is the most inclusive list that is largely representational and one can think of. but to form this list, it took government too long since there were differences of opinions on who can actually be included. 

On the other hand, Radio Azadi reported today that the Taliban too prepared a 15-member list who will represent them in talks with the Afghan delegation. However, the authenticity of the list could not be confirmed and the Taliban just released a statement showing their discontent on the formation of the Afghan government’s negotiating team calling it one sided. They further added, based on their own principles and the commitments with the Americans, they won’t talk with the Afghan government delegation until all sides are not represented. “In order to reach a lasting real peace, this team should be created on consensus of all sides,” the statement wrote.  

Now, nothing can replace a legitimate and democratic Afghan government. That is for sure, not a possible Taliban return which doesn’t even sound practical, nor any other options that could sound possible. If the international community wants to stand by the side of Afghan people as they have been doing so since 2001, the first thing they can do would be to only interact and directly deal with the current Afghan government as a sovereign state. 

It is a well-known reality that only a democratically elected government with the popular support can represent the Afghans. Such government will and obviously can have a cordial relation with Afghanistan’s neighbors and the international community. 

If the United States and Afghanistan’s international partners have any special interest in bringing in the Taliban to join the Afghan government, it will only be possible through a well-defined mechanism. A rushed U.S exit plan or abandonment theory that is constantly being raised will further jeopardize the peace process which will result in further desperation of the Afghans and similarly add to the frustration of the United States. Clearly, it won’t go anywhere. 

Undoubtedly, in the past 19 years, so much have been accomplished which are irreversible. Afghanistan will not go back. This is what we believe. This is what every Afghan believes and this is a redline for those who care for the country they call home. To give an example, women’s rights and the current status they have is unlikely to change or falter. Surprisingly, Afghan women want to see themselves represented in any peace processes. Although, they weren’t part of the US-Taliban deal. 

We all agree in one way or other, that the endless war in Afghanistan must end at one point, but this should come to an end in a responsible manner. The Afghan people do not want to see their country drift back to the old days where there was literally no government, and the country was ruled in fiefdoms, not to count the dark days of the Taliban regime. 

It is also understood, that the general public in the US could somewhat be war weary and so this urges their policy makers to look for a political outcome. It is also understood that the Afghan war is losing its popularity in America as it once had. The US forces should leave Afghanistan one day but there are other moral responsibilities lying ahead that what is going to happen once they leave. How about those Afghans who risked their lives working alongside the Americans and the NATO troops? 

One can also sense that some Americans might have accepted their military defeat in Afghanistan so they are willing to make compromises even with the Taliban no matter how uncomfortable those could be. 

The US-Taliban deal signed in Doha Qatar on February 29, could only succeed if the Taliban fulfill their commitments. It will succeed if they cut ties with all terrorist groups and bid farewell to their Pakistani masters at once and for all. Peace in Afghanistan will only come if the Taliban truly intend to talk with the Afghan government. 

A peace deal with the United States will have no meaning to the Afghans because it won’t get us to peace. It can only be an exit ticket for the United States to get its forces out.

The Taliban’s senseless attacks on ANSDF shows how unwilling and indifferent they are towards a lasting peace. At least 24 Afghan police and soldiers were killed in a Taliban’s insider in southern Zabul province on March 20, according to different media reports. 

On March 25, gunmen stormed a Sikh temple in Kabul killing at least 25 people and wounding eight. This was the most recent example of their atrocities on civilians which they denied having any link. There were other cases of violence caused by the Taliban even after they signed the so called peace deal with the United States last month in Doha.

The Taliban has claimed 405 attacks on ANSF in 24 days after they signed the deal with the US. This puts the average number of attacks carried out by them on the ANSF to 17 attacks per day, according to a report published in the Long War Journal on March 27.  

For regional players like Pakistan who think they are going to gain more if the United States leaves Afghanistan, are committing a mistake, that is not going to happen. Afghanistan will not be left to become a playground for any of our neighbors. Given its strategic locations, and the countless internal problems the country was battling with it in the past, unfortunately, it will enter a new face of infightings and factionalism if the U.S leaves prematurely. Surely, it won’t be left to get ruled by the Taliban or the like. 

In fact, it be would much wiser, easier and perhaps cheaper for Afghanistan’s neighbors to commit to work with a more functional and legitimate Afghan government than with an Afghanistan ruled by a group such as the Taliban. A peaceful and stable Afghanistan can bring economic opportunities for itself and as well as for its neighbors, but an unstable Afghanistan will definitely do the opposite.

Finally, if the United States and its allies decide to leave Afghanistan and undermine the current Afghan government, they can do so but the consequences would be so dire that no one would be able to think of how to fix it. 

*Jawad Sukhanyar, StratCom for Peace, Office of the First Vice President of Afghanistan

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