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Editorial: Thorny issues on road to peace

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who was in Kabul recently, has discussed with Afghan leaders ways of resuming the pivotal peace talks. Their meeting mainly revolved around truce and the Taliban’s safe havens outside the country, as well as the revival of peace talks. The leaders have reportedly emphasized that both issues – ceasefire and Taliban safe havens – should be taken seriously in order to advance the peace process. This is while Khalilzad is poised to rejoin talks with the Taliban in Doha to discuss steps that could lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and a peaceful settlement to the 18-year-long war, specifically a reduction in violence that leads to a ceasefire. Meanwhile, the US pointman for Afghanistan reconciliation also met with Afghan political elites, who also stressed upon a ceasefire.

This renewed zeal for rejuvenating the peace talks comes as US President Donald Trump’s also paid a surprise Thanksgiving visit to the US forces at Bagram Airfield last week, where he said his administration had resumed peace talks with the Taliban, claiming the insurgent group is willing to observe a ceasefire. His maiden and brief foray to Afghanistan raised hopes of progress toward a peace deal with the Taliban. However, with all this hype surrounding the recommencement of peace negotiations, the ground reality is different. The Afghan government states that it is ready for the revival of the talks but only if it is given a seat at the table and if the Taliban agrees to a ceasefire. According to some state officials, the government won’t backtrack from its stance and precondition of demanding a reduction of violence which ultimately leads to a ceasefire – a matter on which the US sees eye to eye with the Afghan government now. Moreover, Ghani’s officials also demand that if talks are resumed, Khalilzad’s format of holding separate negotiations with the Taliban as a preliminary step to later talks between Afghan participants in the conflict cannot be repeated.

No reduction in violence was what that resulted in the collapse of talks between the Taliban and the US in September in the first place after Trump called off what he described as a planned meeting at his Camp David presidential retreat. In spite of that fact, the Taliban are still hell-bent on turning a deaf ear to Afghans’ calls for a truce. A senior Taliban official made their stance clear when he told Reuters, “we will not announce any ceasefire before a deal with the US, and secondly we will not agree to hold any meetings with the Afghan government before that.” People hoped that the last month’s high-profile prisoner swap between the two sides – when the fierce Haqqani Network members, part of the Taliban movement, were swapped with two abducted teachers of the American University of Afghanistan – would serve as a confidence-building measure and a catalyst in the peace talks but it seems those hopes were in vain. At this juncture, stakes are high as fragile yet rejuvenated peace talks are likely to resume in Doha in near future and there are two thorny issues of the ceasefire and the future political system on the road to peace. These two issues constitute the crucial elements of a potential peace deal and need to be seriously thought through but unfortunately, none of the parties into conflict are willing to compromise in this regard. Against the backdrop of these disagreements and hurdles, only time will tell if the revitalized talks would yield any positive results at all.

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