The Afghan talks are picking up pace, with another round scheduled to be held on July 31. For the longest time, getting the Taliban to come to the negotiating table was an insurmountable hurdle. Even when contact was made, the extensive fragmentation of the organisation made any real progress difficult – a process complicated by a heavy US presence in the region. Now that Mullah Omar, the elusive leader of the Taliban, has lent legitimacy to the talks in his annual Eid address, is seems that both sides are finally ready to seriously negotiate. For the first time, the government of Afghanistan, and Pakistan to an extent, have to move beyond getting the Taliban to the table, to think about what a negotiated solution might entail.

President Ashraf Ghani has asked the Taliban representatives to come to the next meeting with written demands, and while they remain to be seen it is quite certain that they will involve the withdrawal of foreign troops, lifting of sanctions on their leaders, and some form of an amnesty agreement – demands they have made before. While such a truce is an attractive option since it immediately ends bloodshed, both parties will have to consider the effect of a general amnesty towards Taliban fighters. The leaders – many of whom have been directly involved in planning and executing deadly attacks – will escape the punishment they deserve. Can the government manage the animosity from the general public when hated figures take up comfortable residencies while generations of Afghans suffer from the effects of war? How will the government incorporate the Taliban into the political system? Theirs may not be a viewpoint the government is prepared to listen to, but the Taliban do represent something, and in a democracy, they must be allowed representation. Furthermore, to what extent is Ashraf Ghani willing to ‘Islamise’ the law to appease fundamentalist groups? Crucially though, allowing the Taliban to remain in Afghanistan also means that the group’s traditional backers have a continued say in the nation’s affairs – a fact Rawalpindi would be keenly aware of.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan need to know that without an effective disarming programme, the Taliban will remain a persistent threat, making any truce a temporary arrangement. They also have to realise that the complete withdrawal of foreign troops is also a necessity. The Taliban’s militancy is rationalised as a Jihad against ‘foreign invaders’ to its supporters. Without giving them a face-saving strategy, the government would be jeopardising any future solution. There are hard and bitter decisions ahead for the Afghan government, just attaining a ceasefire will not be enough.