The hopes kindled by talks between US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban at UAE facilitated by Pakistan seem to have hit a snag with Taliban cancelling yet another round at Qatar over disagreement on the agenda for talks. The parleys were actually scheduled to be held in Saudi Arabia but the Taliban had asked for shifting the venue to Qatar because of the Saudi insistence on ensuring participation of the delegation of Afghan government in the process. The talks were fourth in the series of interaction between Zalmay and the Taliban. The Taliban refuse to accept participation of the Afghan government in the talks as they consider it a ‘puppet regime’.

The previous interface between US and Taliban at UAE had ended on a positive note and the Taliban also not only acknowledged progress in the talks but also expressed their willingness to continue the process. It was probably due to the optimism generated by the talks held so far that a draft agreement drawn up by the influential US think tank RAND Corporation outlining the clauses for a potential peace deal was circulated among Afghan officials and diplomats in Kabul.

While the Taliban oppose the inclusion of the Afghan government in peace talks the latter claims that only Afghans are authorized to discuss a peace deal with the Taliban and decide on the future political system. A spokesman for Chief Executive of Afghanistan Faraidoon Khozon is reported to have said“ Any decision regarding the peace process in Afghanistan is supposed to be the authority of the Afghan government and the Afghan people. The US and regional countries are only facilitating the peace process”

When we talk about Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation in Afghanistan it does imply a process of negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. It is pertinent to point out that the Taliban had held direct talks with the Afghan government due to persuasion by Pakistan in July 2015 but the process could not continue because of the revelation about Mullah Umar’s death. The latter developments also contributed to change of heart by the Taliban in regards to negotiating a peace deal with the Afghan government.

The truth is that Pakistan and the regional countries have made relentless efforts in promoting peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan in particular has been in the forefront at the bilateral and multilateral forums to further the peace process with the conviction that peace in Afghanistan was in her own interest and the entire region. It has also made positive overtures to orchestrate bonhomie with the Afghan government besides continuously making efforts to convince Taliban to come to the negotiating table. Russia has also been very active in this regard. It hosted a peace conference in November which was attended by regional countries, Pakistan, Taliban and members of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan though no concrete results emerged from that effort.

Before the talks Pakistan’s foreign minister visited Afghanistan, China and Russia with a view to take the regional countries on board in regards to the efforts being made to promote dialogue between the US and the Taliban. It may be mentioned that there was a growing international consensus on the need to end the suffering of the people of Afghanistan through peaceful settlement of conflict.

There are reports that Zalmay Khalilzad might visit the regional countries in the backdrop of the new development seeking their help for convincing the Taliban to agree on the inclusion of the Afghan government in the ongoing talks. Special envoy of the Afghan President, Daudzai has also visited Pakistan and urged the latter to use her influence on Taliban for agreeing to talk to the Afghan government. Pakistan assured the visiting all possible help in that regard.

The reality is that peace in Afghanistan cannot be ensured without the participation of the Afghan government. The Afghan Taliban must realize that negotiating a peace deal warrants flexibility and give and take. Their rigidness in regards to non-inclusion of the Afghan government in peace talks is not going to help the cause of peace in Afghanistan. A historic opportunity has been created for settling the conflict in Afghanistan and it should not be wasted. The failure to capitalize on this opportunity will consign Afghanistan to perennial instability.

It is hoped that as a result of the diplomatic efforts going on behind the scene the Taliban would show the required flexibility to continue the peace process. However if they continue to insist on their demand, the process should not be allowed to be derailed. The inclusion of the Afghan government in the talks should not be made a pre-condition for restarting the parleys. The US must keep engaged with the Taliban and continue discussion on the possibilities for striking a peace deal. May be the Taliban agree to the proposition at a later stage when their reservations about the Afghan government are removed. The US which has greater stake in peace in Afghanistan and in ensuring honourable exit from that war-ravaged country needs to show more flexibility and appreciation of the ground realities. The circumstances were never as conducive to finding a solution to the Afghan conundrum as they are at present. The regional countries are not only fully supportive of the current initiative but are also ready to extend every possible help in the reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure and economic development of the country in the post-settlement era.

For Taliban also it is a great opportunity to clinch a deal and ensure the pull out of foreign forces from the Afghan soil for which they have been demanding all along. The US can only negotiate on the time-frame and the modalities involved in pulling out her troops from Afghanistan and the contentious issue of release of prisoners but as far as political arrangement in the post-pull out period is concerned, it has to be agreed between the Taliban and the Afghan government currently in saddle. The Taliban, therefore, also need to look for the possible.

 

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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