Talks between Washington and the Afghan Taliban continued in Doha after two days on Saturday, though progress has remained slow. Not only did the Taliban attack an Afghan government military base in Southern Afghanistan on Friday, they continue to refuse to engage with the Ashraf Ghani regime in Kabul.
The attack by the Taliban killed 23 members of Afghan security forces and wounded 16 others.
It should be noted that Washington insists that both a complete ceasefire and engagement between the Taliban and Kabul are necessary for the progress of the peace process and the eventual removal of all United States (US) troops in Afghanistan.
Regardless, the Afghan government has expedited efforts a team that will eventually join the talks in Qatar. This includes former Afghan envoy to Islamabad Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal and former Afghan deputy foreign minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai. Whether the Taliban will soften their stance on negotiating with the government in Kabul however, remains to be seen. Islamabad, Washington as well as the Kremlin must do all they can to make the Taliban see reason in this matter. Let’s not forget, the Taliban met Afghan representatives — which included members of Prime Minister Ashraf Ghani’s opposition — in Moscow last month.
Meanwhile, Islamabad must use its ties with the Taliban to make them agree to a ceasefire. The humanitarian cost of the Taliban offensive has reached alarmingly high levels. The United Nations reported last year that 2018 had been the bloodiest year in Afghanistan’s recorded history. 3,804 civilians died in 2018, including 927 children. 7,189 civilians were injured. Afghanistan cannot begin the process of healing from decades of war until this carnage continues.
Regardless, these were the highest level negotiations between the Taliban and the US since Washington ramped up peace efforts last year. This can be ascertained from Taliban cofounder Mullah Abdul Ghani joining the Taliban’s negotiation team and engaging directly with US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad.
Regional players must keep their eyes locked on the ball and keep moving forward to secure a safer, less radicalised Afghanistan which cannot be used as a launching pad for terrorist activities against any other state. Meanwhile, the international community must also keep a close eye on the ongoing fighting between India and Pakistan on the Line of Control and how it could impact Afghanistan. *
Published in Daily Times, March 4th 2019.