Thursday, December 2, 2021

Despite Taliban-US Talks Re-Starting, Tough Challenges Lie Ahead

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Days after US President Donald Trump announced resumption of peace talks with the Taliban during a ‘Thanksgiving’ visit to the Bagram airbase, a medical facility just outside the same airbase was attacked by a powerful Taliban suicide bombing on Wednesday. The bombing once again showed the difficulties of the peace negotiation that was stalled after the US President put the talks with the Taliban on hold after the outfit targeted a NATO military facility in Kabul even as the Taliban political team was being prepared for a visit to the US for a personal meeting with the US leader. Ever since the September setback, the Taliban has maintained that it remains open to dialogue, stating that the war will be paused once the terms of the ceasefire is finalised. With this message they had visited Beijing, Moscow and Islamabad following the temporary setback to the talks.

Despite the delay, the talk between the US and the Taliban restarted without any hitch, according to the Taliban Spokesperson Suhail Shaheen. Taliban has insisted that it wants to change the name of Afghanistan from the Islamic Republic to Islamic Emirate. This is something that will find resistance from the current government of Afghanistan led by President Ashraf Ghani which has repeatedly declared that he will not compromise ideas like basic identity of Afghanistan’s government.

A number of issues had been resolved before the US had suspended talks in September according to the Taliban but the biggest remaining issue is the terms of the ceasefire with the US and the subsequent peace talk with the Government of Afghanistan. These are the extremely challenging turns that the US, Taliban and the Government in Kabul will have to negotiate in the coming weeks and months.

Another uncomfortable topic that the Taliban will spring to the table is the status of the Kabul government. Elections for President of Afghanistan was held on September 28, but so far the result of the election has not come out. In the meanwhile, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the challenger to Dr Ghani has been holding protest meetings in Afghanistan demanding for transparency and fairness in the counting. A possible violence stemming from dispute in the election will add a new layer of problems to the already explosive Taliban-US negotiations.

Taliban may dispute the legitimacy of the Ghani government if it is not backed by mass support. This will work in Taliban’s favour, which considers itself to be the real representative of the masses of the country. Already there are signs that international players are seeking a solution whereby Taliban will be a part of the power structure of Afghanistan.

A Russian source has recently said that inclusion of the Taliban in the power sharing arrangement is increasingly appearing unavoidable as the Islamic State forces have come on the Afghan territory. Russians are concerned and so are the Chinese that growing presence of the Islamic State fighters in Aghan soil will sooner than later jeopardise the safety of the Central Asian post-Soviet countries and spread disturbances into the restive Xinxiang province of China. To avoid a likely long term problem from the IS; both China and Russia want Taliban to join a multi-tier power sharing arrangement. It is understood that once the Taliban declares ceasefire with the Government of Afghanistan, other stakeholding countries will begin a process of all round engagement with all sections in Afghanistan.

The overall situation in Afghanistan is going to get difficult because of a lack of enabling environment for peace. Some sections have called upon the US to declare a confidence boosting step. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called upon Washington to declare unilateral ceasefire in Afghanistan to win confidence of the Taliban.

India needs to be watchful of the unfolding events in Afghanistan. New Delhi is deeply committed to the rebuilding of the war ravaged country. It is given US$ 2 billion towards various projects in the country.

It remains to be seen how the various stakeholders like the US, Taliban and the Afghan government negotiates for internal space in Afghanistan. The regional and global players would be keenly watching for some progress in the talks.

Script: Kallol Bhattacherjee, Spl. Correspondent, The Hindu

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