Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, led the five-day-long talks with representatives of the Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha in late January. Khalilzad said the two sides had made significant progress and another round of negotiations between the Taliban and the US was set for February 25. The Taliban said it agreed on a draft framework aimed at ending the 17-year conflict in the violence-ravaged country. The framework includes withdrawal of foreign troops within 18 months after a peace treaty is signed. The Islamist militant group also agreed to prevent Afghan territory being used by groups such as Islamic State and Al Qaeda to stage terrorist attacks.
The US is pushing the peace talks as the White House is in a hurry to pull its troops out of Afghanistan. “For the first time, they’re talking about settling, they’re talking about making an agreement, and we bring our people back home if that happens,” US President Donald Trump said in the Oval Office after the Doha talks.
But the absence of the Afghan government in the talks adds uncertainty to the peace process. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is opposed to the Taliban insisting that his government be excluded from talks, but the militia is determined. While visiting Nangarhar Province on February 10, Ghani said his government is ready to allow the Taliban to open an office in the country, but the militants still refuse to hold talks with Kabul. This shows relations between the Taliban and the Afghan government are yet to look up.
Besides, while the US has promised the Afghan government that any troop withdrawal would not take place before Afghanistan’s security is guaranteed, the Taliban believe the pledge contradicts the framework drafted at the Doha meeting. The US’ ambiguous stance on troop withdrawal and toward the exclusion of the Afghan government in peace talks clouds the prospects of the negotiations.
Besides the US, Russia and Uzbekistan have been involved in building mechanisms for the talks, notably the Russia-led Moscow conference and the Tashkent conference hosted by Uzbekistan.
Russia has two considerations. First, Moscow believes the situation in Afghanistan is important for its security. If the spillover of unrest from Afghanistan goes out of control, it will endanger Central Asia and Russia’s southern border.
Second, an active role in the Afghan peace process can strengthen Russia’s clout and enhance its power of discourse in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Moreover, it helps consolidate its sphere of influence in Eurasia.
In late March 2018, Uzbekistan held a conference on Afghanistan in Tashkent. Representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, the US, Russia, China, UN and the EU attended the meeting. The Tashkent Declaration issued at the conference called for direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban without conditions and asked the militant group to accept the proposal for peace talks.
The conference, though not a mechanism for negotiations, had its benefits. But the absence of the Taliban undermined its achievements.
Peace and stability in Afghanistan is desirable for the country and the larger region. Not only Russia and Uzbekistan, but Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and India hope to play a role in the Afghan peace process. A slew of mechanisms for the negotiations have been unable to bring the Taliban and the Afghan government to the talks table.
The purpose of building mechanisms for peace talks is peace and stability in Afghanistan and welfare of the Afghan people, and the situation begs a positive outcome.
The Global Times