After months of stalemate, peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban took a small but substantial step forward on Tuesday as both sides reached agreement on procedures and rules that will govern future peace talks.
The deal was hailed by U.S. Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has shuttled between Doha and Kabul in recent months. “This agreement demonstrates that the negotiating parties can agree on tough issues. We congratulate both sides on their perseverance,” he said.
Although the agreement to begin working toward an agreement is a start, there are still hurdles to surmount: No agenda has been set for peace talks and both sides disagree on the order of priorities. For Afghan government officials, a cease-fire is their top concern, while the Taliban want other issues—such as prisoner swaps and a future governing framework—ironed out first.
All the while, violence in the country—whether it’s carried out by the Taliban, CIA-backed paramilitary groups, or the Islamic State—shows no sign of stopping. And as U.S. troops prepare to leave, the Afghan government must be wary of the U.S. government’s interest in Afghanistan leaving along with them.
Zal may stay. Wednesday’s declaration is a vindication of sorts for U.S. envoy Khalilzad, who could be out of a job once a Biden administration takes office. As FP’s Jack Detsch, Robbie Gramer, and Colum Lynch report, insiders think he may hold on to the position, although that sentiment is not universal. “I see a stronger logic for replacing him than keeping him,” one official said. “It’s not like he is having wild success.”
The unheard. As intra-Afghan talks slowly grind into gear, one group that will not be at the table are victims of decades of bloodshed. “Inclusion of the civilian victims in the negotiations,” Ezzatullah Mehrdad writes in a dispatch from Kabul, “would break the old pattern of short-lived deals and rewarding violence.”