IT is a necessary and welcome recognition by the US. If peace is to be achieved in Afghanistan, the US will have to participate in a dialogue effort. But multiple US presidential administrations have resisted acknowledging that reality, partly spurred by the Afghan state’s concerns about the Afghan Taliban seeking to bypass the government in Kabul. Now, reportedly frustrated by the lack of progress in a war in which he reluctantly agreed to extend US participation at the urging of his national security and military leaderships, President Trump seems to have signalled a willingness for his administration to engage the Taliban in talks. Mr Trump’s decision should be quickly welcomed by all protagonists in the Afghan war and immediate efforts made to resume what appears to be a stalled dialogue effort. President Ashraf Ghani’s government has already made an unprecedented offer of dialogue with the Taliban and lingering concerns about the Afghan state being sidelined in talks between the Taliban and the US should not be allowed to veto what could be a historic opportunity. Similarly, Pakistan should recognise that this is a chance to work with the US to help bring peace and stability to the region rather than to meaninglessly continue trading allegations with the US.
For the Taliban, the two primary, long declared impediments to successful dialogue have been the US’s unwillingness to directly engage with them and to discuss a withdrawal of US forces. President Trump’s obvious frustration with a never-ending foreign war and the inability of the generals to deliver measurable gains in the war effort have likely helped break down the resistance in the US national security and military apparatus to talks with the Taliban. Certainly, a willingness to engage them does not mean that the Afghan government or Pakistan are not included in an initial talks effort that can be quickly widened to involve other big regional actors, such as China, Russia and Iran. While there could be several reasons why the US initiative may flounder or be impeded by forces inimical to peace, there is one compelling reasons for all sides, from the Afghan Taliban to the Afghan government and from global powers to regional actors, to want dialogue and for a peace process to succeed: the threat of the militant Islamic State group in Afghanistan. A momentous opportunity may beckon; peace in Afghanistan should be the primary, urgent goal for all sides.
Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2018