After months of intense parleys, the much-anticipated peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban is believed to be taking a definite turn. The two sides have reached some kind of consensus on the framework of negotiations that would guide or streamline the discussions and proceedings on the agenda in the foreseeable future. An agreement was finalised which roadmaps discussions on more concrete “substantive” issues including that of a ceasefire in the violence-afflicted nation. According the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalizad, the agreement- a three-page document delineated the rules and procedures that will be instrumental while preparing the blueprint for future political governance of Afghanistan, and, more importantly, the long pending comprehensive ceasefire.
The US-backed peace talks that started in Doha in September this year have been shrouded in speculation given the myriad irreconcilable differences between the negotiating sides. The Taliban have emphatically refused to accept the legitimacy of the Ashraf Ghani led government in Afghanistan. Similarly, there have been widespread suspicions over the intentions of Taliban. Even though they agreed to hold peace talks with the Afghan government, they have relentlessly pursued their attacks and unleashed violence in the country including attacks on the Afghan security forces and the US-led coalition forces.
A joint statement issued on behalf of the negotiating sides said a joint working committee would facilitate the preparation of issues to be put on the agenda. This particular development has been widely welcomed all across given the general sense of hopelessness around the peace talks. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, called the preliminary agreement as a “major milestone” appreciating the “perseverance and willingness” of both sides determined to reach a “common ground”. Secretary Pompeo assured the stakeholders that the US government would fully cooperate towards efforts to reduce the staggeringly high levels of violence in Afghanistan. The UN Envoy on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, also applauded the agreement referring to it as a “springboard” that could help restore the longed peace in the war-torn nation. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry referred to the positive development as a “step forward”.
The two sides reaching a consensus, even though in a nascent stage, bodes significant implications. It would be worth watching how the incoming Biden administration would cope with it. Before the US elections, President Trump spoke of complete US withdrawal from Afghanistan by Christmas this year. However, he later climbed down to announce that there would be significant reductions of forces beginning January 2021. Whether or not his contention materialises remains to be seen. But the two sides negotiating in Doha have provided some good news and it may be difficult for Mr. Biden to ignore that.
The situation in Afghanistan is still fluid. An understanding between the Taliban and the US envisaged complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country by May 2021. However, given the current situational realities where Taliban militias continue to stage violence and terror on Afghan soil, it is still difficult to gauge whether Afghanistan will witness more stability and order once the international forces leave.
As far as India is concerned, it has been unequivocally supportive of the present peace talks. In his virtual address at the inauguration of the Doha talks in September, External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar emphasized that the negotiations in principle must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled, thereby extending India’s categorical support to the talks. India has huge stakes in Afghanistan’s peace given the volume of investment it has made in the strife-ridden nation.
Just a fortnight ago, India and Afghanistan had signed an agreement for building of the Shahtoot dam at Chahar Asiab near Kabul. The dam project is slated to provide clean drinking water to the Afghan population in the vicinity. The agreement has reportedly caused some displeasure in Pakistan. It is clear that India and Afghanistan are determined to forge ahead and continue to optimally cooperate at multiple levels towards reconstruction and development efforts in the war ravaged country. Pakistan will continue to play a spoiler. In this regard, both India and Afghanistan will have to contend with the pursuit of persistent deterrence from the Pakistani side.
Script: Dr. Priyanka Singh, Strategic Analyst on Afghanistan