For a change, United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan finally seem to be on the same page over the new dialogue initiative with the Taliban, as all parties acknowledge that the other has legitimate grievances.
Despite reaffirming that US was still not satisfied with Pakistan’s efforts, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells stated that the US has recognised that both Pakistan and the Taliban have honest concerns and the United States is willing to address those. This conciliatory attitude comes after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s speech, where he stated his commitment to negotiation with the Taliban in order to end the decade long war. This solution to the end of war is supported by both U.S and Pakistan.
The fact that all parties are ready to put aside their individual grievances against each other, to start the negotiation process, is a good development for prospective peace in the process. This was a much needed step, after deterioration of the peace situation, and with several devastating attacks in Kabul. Cooperation is also a direly needed move, in the face of an escalating Pakistan-US relationship.
However, all parties, or at least the three countries involved, must ensure that the process does not fall through this time, as it has so many times before. Just a few months before, peace talks with the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, concerning Taliban negotiations, discontinued, mostly due to a rift in Pakistan, Afghanistan and US’s relationship. The countries involved need to put aside their differences, such as issues of including India in peace talks, to focus on successful operation of this peace process.
Ashraf Ghani’s extension of friendship to the Taliban is a generous one. He offered passports to the Taliban, repatriation of their families, the release of Taliban prisoners, removal of their names off the UN terrorists’ blacklists and, above all, a political office for them in Kabul. In exchange, the cooperation agreement included built-in pre-conditions, such as a ceasefire, and that the Taliban accept the state, its constitution and the government as well as human rights including women’s rights.
While it is a good offer, and the emphasis on women’s rights is an imperative addition, past experiences with negotiations with the Taliban have lead us to be skeptical. Whatever the case, the countries involved need to ensure that any wavering does not come from their side; and that their cooperation with each other should continue, whether the Taliban respond or not.