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Despite Kabul-Taliban talks, Afghan peace process is still dicey

SAM SPECIAL-ENG-22-09-2020 (1)
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan

On September 12, the Afghan government and the Taliban started their direct peace talks in Doha, the capital of Qatar. This is the first direct negotiation between the Afghan government and the Taliban since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. 

In 2001, the United States launched the global war on terror and occupied Afghanistan through military operations. At that time, the Afghan Taliban were regarded as the patron of Al Qaeda, and its regime was overthrown by the United States. Since then the Talibanhave been comprehensively and continuously attacked by the United States.

In the past 19 years of fighting, the Afghan Taliban have not only continued to exist, but also grown stronger and stronger, and now they enjoy equal negotiating status with the US government. In the end, the United States had to seek negotiations with the Taliban. Only after the relevant parties exerted influence, the Taliban agreed to hold talks with representatives of the US government.

Earlier the Taliban were not willing to hold talks with representatives of the Afghan government, because they believed that the Afghan government was a puppet of the United States and was not qualified to represent the Afghan people.

From being the main target of the US military attack, to entering  negotiations with the United States, and then negotiating with the Afghan government on an equal footing, the Taliban have not only become the main factor affecting the domestic security situation in Afghanistan, but are also gradually getting their statuslegalized, which is increasingly valued by the international community.

The key role of Pakistan

As Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan is not only the biggest victim of the US military occupation of Afghanistan and the terrorism caused by the US military operations, but it has also been in a very difficult situation vis-à-vis the subsequent peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

At the beginning of this 21st.,century, the United States forced Pakistan to cut off ties with the Afghan Taliban and support the US military attack on Afghanistan. Pakistan had to make great sacrifices to fight terrorism. Since 2001, in the war on terror, more than 70,000 Pakistani people have lost their lives and the economic loss has reached 250 billion US dollars.

On the Afghan battlefield, the US troops gradually became the target like “rats crossing the street chased by all”. So, the United States had no choice but to seek peace talks with the Taliban. At first, the Afghan Taliban did not want to talk with the United States at all. Under such circumstances, the United States kept putting pressure on Pakistan by creating troubles for it.

In order to seek regional peace, Pakistan has overcome various difficulties, worked with the relevant parties of the international community and successfully got the Afghan Taliban to accept the offer of peace talks. Therefore, Pakistan has given full play to the role of supporter and mediator of the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan and played a key role in realizing US-Taliban negotiations and signing the peace agreement aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan on February 29 this year.

Similarly, Pakistan, together with all parties concerned in the international community, has done a lot of work to facilitate the opening of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. On September 13, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated that Pakistan will continue to fully support the Afghan people's unremitting efforts to secure peace and development. The "Afghan owned and Afghan led" peace talks are essential for the realization of peace in Afghanistan and the region. He hoped that the Afghan leaders will seize the historic opportunity and work together to reach an inclusive, extensive and comprehensive political solution.

Afghan peace process is full of uncertainties

Although the intra-Afghan talks have been launched, the peace and reconciliation process in the country still faces many difficulties.

First, the United States will not withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan. The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said recently that the United States will reduce its troops in Afghanistan to 4,500 within one to two months. As long as the US troops continue to stay in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban will not completely stop the resistance movement. To truly achieve peace in Afghanistan, the US troops must leave Afghanistan completely. 

Second, the United States will not give up its control over the Afghan regime. The Taliban believes that the current Afghan government is a puppet of the United States. In fact, without the support of the United States, the current regime in Afghanistan will collapse immediately.

Under such circumstances, the intra-Afghan talks will likely go ahead along with fighting, and the security situation in Afghanistan will not be fundamentally improved. To truly achieve peace in Afghanistan, the United States must thoroughly give up control over the Afghan government.

Third, a regional force is trying to intervene in Afghan affairs. This will add complex factors to the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

 

(Cheng Xizhong, visiting professor at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, senior fellow of the Charhar Institute, former Defense Attache in South Asian countries, former UN Senior Military Observer)