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After years of conflict, Afghanistan could be on the precipice of peace

By Seddiq Hussainy

Peace process in Afghanistan has long been in tatters. After many failed attempts for negotiations, the United States is apparently nearing an agreement with the Taliban, the most resistant guerilla group in Afghanistan, to lay its arms down and become a legitimate political front.

The United States and the Taliban have been engaging in talks for months to broker a peace deal in a bid to end the grilling 18-year insurgency in Afghanistan. There have been eight rounds of painstaking negotiations between the unscrupulous warmongering faction, the Taliban, and the U.S. with the involvement of many stakeholders in the region but to no avail. However, the peace process is at the rock face of a major crossroads after the ninth rounds of talks began in Qatar, which entered their ninth day on Friday. It is highly likely that the Taliban and the U.S. sides shall strike a peace deal very soon. A Taliban’s representative in Doha is reported to have said that the two sides were about to finalize a peace agreement.

The negotiations are substantially and unilaterally spearheaded by the U.S., bypassing Kabul government. The deal the Americans are trying to hammer out with the Taliban will cover withdrawal of U.S. troops and a commitment from the Taliban to cease fighting and to never provide sanctuary to terrorist groups.

It is still unclear what precisely the two sides are about to agree on, but one thing is clear – the Afghan government has been sidelined and the genuine representation of Afghan nation is missing in the talks. So far, the Taliban continues to stick to its guns vis-à-vis refusing direct negotiations with President Ghani’s government, which it criticizes as a puppet.

The intense peace talks with the insurgents, which is universally construed as the sole option to end America’s longest war in Afghanistan, has been given an epic sweep with intervention of many countries and regional stakeholders – yet again without direct involvement of the Kabul administration. This could be emboldening the Taliban and encouraging them to deride the Afghan government in possible future talks.

Nevertheless, the government in Kabul has remained skeptical about the unsavory intentions of the Taliban and their patrons. A solid reason is that these long-drawn peace negotiations have been overlapping with an escalation of insurgency and staggering human suffering. To gain leverage in the talks and ensure a better deal with the White House, the Taliban has been increasing their violent attacks on military and civilian targets. The belligerent group’s campaign of terror and violence continues hook, line and sinker and there seems to be no end to their shenanigans and tomfooleries. As a Taliban’s spokesman put it, there will be more bloodshed if no deal is reached.

The major drawback in the U.S..-Taliban talks is the sidelining of the legitimate government. If the possibility of a peace agreement becomes a reality, the U.S. should include its alienated allies in Kabul. Washington must keep up pressure on the Taliban to advance talks with the Afghan government as well. Pressure must be mounted on the regional players to use their leverage on the Taliban to engage with Kabul.

The war-weary Afghan nation hankers after peace and an end to civil unrest, but a peace deal must ensure freedom and civil safety of all Afghans. It is only the government of Afghanistan that can represent the genuine interests of the people. Although no direct intra-Afghan dialogue has been held so far, there is a strong belief that the Taliban and Kabul will be at loggerheads over such crucial issues as elections and governance.

Against this backdrop, the thrice postponed presidential election set for September 28 could be a bone of contention. This argument gets more momentum amid speculations that there is a possibility that elections will not be held and instead a coalition or transitional government will be formed. The Taliban is also strictly against elections and has urged Afghans to boycott the polls.

This goes explicitly against democratic values and the interests of the country. A possibility of no election could potentially threaten the legitimacy of the democratic system. Moreover, there are more other worries that will be exacerbated if the Taliban gets reconciled and join the political system. Afghanistan’s post-Taliban era has been replete with achievements in terms of human rights, women’s rights, freedom of speech and press, education, reconstruction and other areas.

The Afghan citizens are looking after peace with the Taliban, but it is a certainty that they will never want those achievements to be undermined and reversed. The best option for the Taliban is to enter faithful negotiations with the Afghan government and people and secure their place in the future of governance.

The most pressing issue however remains to be the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The Taliban is not the only responsible terrorist group for Afghanistan’s insurgency conundrum. There are dozens of terrorist groups wreaking havoc including ISIS and al-Qaeda. Figures and facts suggest that the Islamic State group is perpetrating record number of violent attacks across Afghanistan. Therefore, if a peace deal is brokered, it should ensure that counter-insurgency support remains intact in the future to fight all insurgent groups and unlock the grip of conflict in Afghanistan.

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