Afghan Negotiations: Problems and Concerns

Afghan Negotiations: Problems and Concerns

Tahir Ali Khan

Negotiations are underway in Qatar between the Taliban, the Afghan government and Afghan civil society. All want an early agreement for peace and stability in war-torn Afghanistan, but for several difficulties and concerns, it seems distant dream at the moment.

There are lots of differences of mind and preferences, mistrust and misgivings between the two sides. Neither the United States and the Afghan government have full confidence in the Taliban, not the Taliban have in them.

These differences and misgivings exist between the rival groups as well as within each group itself. For example, when the purpose of dialogue, which is part of the 23-point code of conduct, was being written, the government wanted it to be end of the war, while the Taliban were in favor of the word jihad. Someone called for an end to the problems, but after much discussion, the words the end of the conflict were agreed upon. Or when the two sides started talks, Masoom Stanekzai, a key member of the Afghan negotiators, said, “Let’s start introduction from the left.” At this, Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban’s chief negotiator, said, “You guys do everything from the left, while we Mujahideen always start from the right.” It meant that from the very outset, the parties were soon mentally in the atmosphere of forty years ago when the division of the right and the left was deep and there was a tussle between the communists and the Islamists that culminated in USSR intervention in 1979.

US President Donald Trump wants a ceasefire and an Afghan peace deal in Afghanistan ahead of the November 3 US presidential election. The Afghan government also wants a ceasefire and a halt or reduction in violence, but the Taliban are not ready for any at the moment. They want to determine the future system of the government and the details of the interim government before these things happen.

The question is who will join the interim government and how will the next government be elected? Will the Taliban accept democracy and the current democratic system and contest elections as a political group? If they opt for democracy and elections, will they be able to satisfy their hardline leaders and supporters? Will they be able to give a policy regarding women, minorities and other religious sects that is acceptable to all Afghans and the world? What will be the role of Al Qaeda, ISIS, Haqqani Network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar etc.? What will happen to the current Afghan army and former Mujahideen and their commanders? Will they get a general amnesty and be integrated into the Afghan army or will they be prosecuted?

The Taliban say that women and minorities will be given all rights according to Sharia, but they want to make Hanafi jurisprudence the law of the land. Does it have a place in the current constitution of Afghanistan and will other groups agree to it?

In addition, issues such as rule of law, permanent and interim judiciary, formation and strengthening of other institutions, accountability, distribution of resources, etc. remain to be decided.

It remains to bebseen whether the role of regional and global powers be constructive or destructive? Afghans have also to agree on a common Afghan culture and the future structure of the Afghan state?

And if President Trump loses the election, will the new president adopt his policy or will the process come to an end?

In the February 29 Taliban-US agreement, the Taliban promised not to pose a threat to the United States and its allies, not to cooperate with armed groups intent on attacking tge US, and to negotiate with the Afghan government and groups.

After fulfillment of the above promises made by the Taliban, the United States has promised to withdraw all foreign forces, including its army, lift sanctions on the Taliban, provide resources for the reconstruction of Afghanistan with the cooperation of all allies and the United Nations and not to interfere in Afghanistan in future.

This agreement was followed by the signing of a four-point declaration between the United States and the Afghan government which included the statement of Taliban’s anti-terrorism pledges, the withdrawal of foreign troops, intra-Afghan talks, a ceasefire and to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a bastion of terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.

These points are interconnected and interdependent. But no joint document has emerged on the details of their interrelationship.

So what if the Taliban declare a ceasefire tomorrow, will all its commanders accept this decision? Or if the United States says that the conditions for evacuation have not been met so the US troops will not leave and the sanctions on the Taliban will remain intact, then what will be the reaction of the Taliban?

There are concerns inside and outside the country about the future contours of Afghan government system. It is also feared that Afghanistan will again become a threat to regional and global peace. But these concerns should not be an obstacle a to constructive dialogue.

In order to pave the way for the February 29 Taliban-US agreement and the ongoing inter-Afghan talks, the Taliban, the United States and the Afghan government had to step back from many of their declared positions and make concessions to the other side. Without patience, understanding, sacrifice and sincerity, it is still difficult to succeed in negotiations.

It is hoped that through a dialogue held with a spirit of compromise and in an atmosphere free from outside foreign occupation and interference, all Afghan groups will ensure that Afghanistan is a responsible country of the international community, a center of peace and stability and not a threat to any country. Rehabilitation and reconstruction require the continued support of the international community. Other countries should also respect its independence and integrity and make it a field of cooperation, and not of a competition for pursuing their strategic interest.

At present, negotiations and violence are going on simultaneously. It is feared that a major attack could break up the talks at any time so that the parties will do good to reduce or end the violence for the success of the talks.

And until all the important Afghan ethnic, political and religious groups reach on a consensus Afghan peace agreement and Afghanistan’s own forces aren’t able to keep the whole country safe, foreign forces must stay here or else Afghanistan will be prone to a civil war again just as it did in 1989 when the Red Army had left without such Intra-Afghan agreement.

Tahir Ali Khan is a Pakistan based academic who can be reached at

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