The opening of the Taliban office in Doha has commenced a new chapter in the debate on the future of Afghanistan. In 12 years of conflict since the toppling of the Taliban government, many backdoor channels have been used for a breakthrough. The road to Qatar is the result of such efforts that took place in different parts of the world.

Against this backdrop, the Taliban refused to recognise the Afghan government and entered into talks with the US under the patronage of Qatar’s government. This infuriated President Hamid Karzai, who hardly rules within a 10-km radius of his presidential palace in the heart of Kabul. Hoisting of the Taliban flag and the opening of its office in Doha, bearing the sign of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, disturbed him; terming it a symbolic indicator as mark of parallel government. The Karzai administration exploited it to register its note of opposition.

There are, however, serious apprehensions that the negotiation process could be derailed on one pretext or the other. Each day, we witness different scenarios and different set of statements, signalling a state of chaos and confusion. The negotiations have been into troubled waters ever since they were first made public. Nevertheless, though the dark shadows of trust deficit looms over the dialogue process, the prospects of its success are not so bleak and there is hope for a step forward: it may be able to provide a viable solution for Afghanistan’s future.

In addition, the US is looking for an honourable exit from this mess by 2014. The armies of some 48 countries are part of the US-led coalition forces and there is clear message from around the globe that dialogues must continue and bear fruit for all through a win-win strategy.

Let me add that the efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table started quite some time in the recent past, but took too long to take a definite shape. But their resilience for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, and subsequent agreement to sit with Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, were important developments in the process. They are demanding unconditional withdrawal of all foreign troops from their land.

The US, therefore, must demonstrate full commitment to the comprehensive peace agreement. Previously, its duplicitous policy and contradictory signals to the main stakeholders made the situation complex. US Secretary of State John Kerry has recently warned the negotiating Taliban to be ready for some sort of breakthrough; otherwise, the political office facility in Qatar might be withdrawn. This is certainly some kind of precondition fixed to the negotiations apparently meant for drawing the line for further dialogue. It is important to remember that the Afghans are not easy negotiators and such a statement may harm the atmosphere on the whole.

Both sides must step back from the brink, find a way out and embark on conclusive talks. The dialogue process must not be held hostage to the whim and mood of any group or individual. The first important step in this direction is to reach at truce.

What the Americans achieved in the last 12 years would remain a question of high significance. However, the major objectives of the US, i.e. executing the high-value target, Osama bin Laden, hunting down key figures of al-Qaeda and dismantling the al-Qaeda base and operational capabilities, have been achieved. Perhaps, it is in a position to declare at home a success. Yet, there are many who describe the situation similar to the Vietnam War back in 1975 and foresee a Vietnam-style peace deal in the future.

At the strategic level, Afghanistan is decidedly a different battleground compared to Vietnam with major exceptions in different international context. The only similarity can be drawn by the Noble Peace Laureate, President Barack Obama, by flourishing the peace process. Thereafter, it can resemble the current US-Vietnam relationship; both countries maintain excellent bilateral relationship in Southeast Asia after a long bloody and frustrating war, fostering important trading and strategic partnerships. Nevertheless, President Obama needs to read “Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam” by Gorden M. Goldstein to better understand the need for peaceful coexistence.

Afghanistan is a landlocked, resource limited and dependent capitalist country. It is deeply embedded in the long established tribal patriarchal social structure. Having both strategic and economic value, almost every neighbouring country is a competitor for regional hegemony. It is well known what is at stake and wants to have its interest served in Afghanistan, thus supporting different militant groups. In this scenario, only an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process can deliver the results.

Will different militant groups and political parties be in agreement on a peace and power-sharing formula? Needless to say, the course of negotiations will determine the outcome. But the people on both sides of the Durand Line share the same culture and religious identity, and what happened in Afghanistan cast its shadows heavily on Pakistani tribal areas. Keeping this in mind, many Pakistanis are voicing the notion: “If US can talk to Taliban, why not Pakistan?”

    The writer is working in the Learning Resource Centre of the University of Management and Technology.