Currently, the results of the fraud-tainted presidential election and the resumption of peace talks with the Taliban are two predominant matters which have brought Afghanistan to a turning point. The recent developments in terms of the peace process have increased optimism in this regard. Last week, the Afghan government released three Taliban commanders in return for two foreign university professors, who had been abducted and taken hostage since 2016 by the Taliban militants. Meanwhile, the Taliban also freed 10 Afghan soldiers shortly after that prisoner swap. These actions showed the goodwill gestures of both sides and built some trust among the stakeholders. Afghans who yearn for peace now hope that these steps would lead to a reduction in violence and a ceasefire.
Moreover, some well-placed sources have confided that secret talks are being held between US Special Envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban representatives in Qatar’s capital, Doha. These talks are said to continue secretly until President Trump officially announced the next round of peace negotiations within the next few days. This is while President Trump has recently hinted at the resumption of formal talks with the insurgent group as he said the US was working on an agreement with the Taliban. President Trump has also reportedly talked with President Ghani – who has accepted an invitation to visit the US extended by Trump – on the telephone in this regard and had insisted on a ceasefire as a precondition before negotiations. On the other hand, the much-talked-about next round of direct talks between Afghans in the Chinese capital of Beijing has been once again delayed due to some differences over agenda and some other issues and may not be held. This intra-Afghan dialogue, which is seen to bring on track the peace negotiations, is something that Afghans hope would pave way for long-lasting peace because finally, the government representatives are also going to be part of it. However, the Afghan government has so far reportedly failed to introduce a delegation which is acceptable to all and thus this problem coupled with some other logistics issues have negatively impacted the conduct of the meeting.
Interestingly, the US congress which had taken a backseat so far in regards to Afghanistan has recently introduced bipartisan legislation that would guarantee congressional oversight on the Afghan peace process. The bill requires that the US administration transmit the final agreement with the Taliban to Congress for endorsement. This means the Congress is taking an interest in Afghanistan’s future and wants to protect the hard-fought gains in Afghanistan since 2001. These recent developments on the part of peace stakeholders are laudable and give hope to war-weary Afghans. On the part of the government, issues concerning finalizing the delegation for Beijing dialogue should be resolved at the earliest because the prisoner swap has served as a confidence-building measure and a catalyst for peace negotiations; thus it is a window of opportunity which should not slip out of hands.