Doha Talks: A Stalemate

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Taliban are not agreeing to a ceasefire and insisting on the withdrawal of troops from Afghan soil, writes Syeda Mamoona Rubab


The Taliban, during the on-going sixth round of negotiations with the United States for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, took a day off to mark the start of Ramazan, the month of fasting. Ironically, however, there was no declaration for some respite from violence in the war-ravaged country.

The pause in talks in Doha allowed US Special Representative for Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad to travel to India (though it was a scheduled trip) and devour “masala dosas” and “hot cups of South Indian filter coffee.” Khalilzad’s message for the Afghans, while savouring the Indian delicacies was: “I wish peace and prosperity to all Afghans this Ramazan. Afghans have suffered war’s catastrophic impact for too long. I hope all Afghans take this season to reflect, forgive, and renew faith and commitment to end violence and embrace peace.”

Those, who have been longing for peace, were not as lucky. Just a day before the start of Ramazan, at least 13 people were killed and dozens of others were injured when Taliban fighters, in a major strike, attacked police headquarters in Pul-e-Khumri of Baghlan province. Later, on the first day of Ramazan, a number of violent incidents were reported across Farah, Wardak, Zabul, Ghazni, Takhar, Helmand, Laghman, and Paktia.

The violence continues despite some passionate calls for peace. The Afghan Loya Jirga, held last week, called on Taliban to shun violence and agree to a ceasefire. The call was immediately rejected by the militants, although Loya Jirga had also called for a timeline for withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Taliban, thus, once again squandered an opportunity to join Afghan leaders for the cause of peace.

Moreover, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has urged all warring factions to halt fighting during Ramazan.

“It is our hope that the observance of Ramazan will provide an opportunity for all communities in Afghanistan to come closer together. In that spirit, the UN calls on all parties to the conflict to halt the fighting,” UNAMA chief Tadamichi Yamamoto said in a media statement.

The latest wave of violence in some ways proves the analysis of a US government watchdog which said that getting a peace deal would not guarantee peace and there would be no assurance either that the progress made by Afghanistan on human rights would be remain secure and irreversible. “No matter how welcome peace would be, it can carry with it the seeds of unintended and unforeseen consequences,” a US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction report said. Such a situation, it has cautioned, “could frustrate the shared goal of a stable Afghanistan,” which respects the rule of law and is “at peace with itself and its neighbours.”

In Doha, meanwhile, the discussions have been held up by Taliban’s insistence on US first announcing withdrawal of troops, whereas the US side has been adamant that there must be reduction in violence and a ceasefire. These two are the relatively more complicated issues in an overall deal being negotiated. This deal essentially has four components: troops’ withdrawal, counter-terrorism assurances, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a ceasefire. The US has made it clear to Taliban that the package has to be comprehensive covering all these ‘inter-connected’ elements. Taliban have also maintained a hard line position on intra-Afghan dialogue and has not only refused to talk to the Afghan government, but a meeting with Afghan political leaders and civil society in Doha was cancelled at the eleventh hour after the Taliban political office objected to the composition of the delegation from Afghanistan.

The situation in Doha is nothing less than a stalemate. Suhail Shaheen, representative of Taliban Political Office in Doha, has said that talks were focused on “withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and not allowing any one to use the soil of Afghanistan against any other country.” An understanding on these issues, he believes, “is crucial for other issues to be taken on.” In a media interview, however, he acknowledged that the progress in the talks was slow.

How is this deadlock going to be resolved? Is Pakistan the key for progress? The Afghan leaders and US pointsman for the process Khalilzad believes so, although Prime Minister Imran Khan has already declared neutrality in the conflict and denounced violent actions by all sides. It is in this context that lot of importance is being attached to a telephonic conversation between PM Khan and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

According to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office on the conversation Khan “reiterated his vision for finding a peaceful solution in Afghanistan,” and assured the Afghan leader that Pakistan will “spare no effort to advance the common objectives of building peace in Afghanistan.”

President Ghani is expected to visit Islamabad for building on this conversation sometime after Eid. The dates for the trip are being worked out.

The visit is a welcome sign that Kabul is ready to make another attempt at repairing its fractured relationship with Islamabad. But the bigger question remains whether this progress in ties would actually translate into forward movement towards peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, which is essential not only for the affected country but for the neighbouring countries as well and more particularly Pakistan.

The current thinking in Islamabad that the US-Taliban process is not likely to be successful is, however, not very assuring.

The writer is a senior researcher at Islamabad Policy Institute. She can be reached at mamoona.rubab@ipipk.org 

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