The much-awaited Talks between Afghanistan government and the Taliban begun in Doha on September 12. The Peace Talks which was earlier scheduled in March could not take place due to the disagreement over prisoners’ exchange-one of the preconditions put by Taliban for starting negotiations with the Afghan government. This was part of the agreement between the Taliban and US who were engaged in secret negotiations for enabling an exit strategy for the US troops. Taliban wanted its 5,000 prisoners who were behind the bars in Afghanistan to be freed, while the Ashraf Ghani government made the dialogue conditional on reduction of violence. Due to US pressure, Kabul was urged to start the dialogue at the earliest. The Afghan government was compelled to start the negotiations despite raging violence and Taliban’s attempts to takeover more areas under its control so that they could negotiate from a position of strength.
The Taliban delegation is being led by Sheikh Abdul Hakim, former Chief Justice of the erstwhile Islamic Emirate, Abbas Stanikzai and Anas Haqqani are some of the prominent members in the Taliban side. The Afghan government at the talks is led by Masoom Stanekzai; other members who are attending the dialogue from Kabul’s side include Hanif Atmar and Abdullah Abdullah, the former Presidential contender and the Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation.
This is the first formal meeting between the two sides after the initiation of formal intra-afghan dialogue as a part of US-Taliban agreement in February. Taliban and representatives of Afghan government had met in Moscow in Russia’s bid to open intra-afghan dialogue in 2019. Afghan government has always been open to a dialogue with Taliban and favoured intra-Afghan dialogue. But, this was rejected by Taliban who expressed their willingness only to have a dialogue with the United States. The Taliban have always leveraged their ability to inflict violence and cost for not recognizing them as an important party with which international community needs to engage. After efforts by international interlocutors and nudging by several countries especially Pakistan, who has patronized Taliban all along, the talks are finally happening.
The bottom line for the Afghan government appears to be saving the progressive laws related to women’s empowerment and education even though the negotiations are likely to pave the way for the return of an “Islamic Emirate”. Afghanistan government is also keen on brokering a cease-fire for the talks to progress. Taliban want to re-establish Islamic Constitution in Afghanistan.
Before the talks in Doha, the Taliban delegation, headed by Mullah Baradar visited Islamabad and discussed the future of Afghanistan with Pakistani leaders. The meeting was attended by the ISI Chief also. This shows the influence that Islamabad continues to exert on Taliban. This is a major concern for India. It needs to be mentioned that India has been victim of terrorism sponsored by Pakistan from Afghan soil during the Taliban regime. While India sincerely desires the dialogue to succeed and a power-sharing deal is arrived at for the lasting peace in that country. India is building several development projects in Afghanistan.
External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar, clearly enunciated India’s stand on Afghanistan. At the inaugural session of the talks, Dr. Jaishankar said, India believes any peace process must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled and has to respect the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and preserve the progress made in the establishment of a democratic Islamic Republic in Afghanistan. The interests of minorities, women and vulnerable sections of society must be preserved and the issue of violence across the country and its neighbourhood has to be effectively addressed.
There is a lot at stake in this dialogue. Dr. Jaishankar emphasized the need to respect “national sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Afghanistan as a prior requirement for the success of the Doha process. There is an urgent need for a peaceful transition in Afghanistan. India would like to see an Afghanistan which is at peace with itself. This will ensure regional security. Like Afghanistan, India too, has a lot of stake.
Script: Dr. Smruti S Pattanaik, Strategic Analyst on South Asia