Demands made by Taliban representatives, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, make a peace deal with Kabul unlikely. To achieve this, the militants must change their position, say experts.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently said his delegation would receive a list of demands in the second round of the peace talks with the Taliban, scheduled for the end of July. However, an Afghan diplomat involved in the first meeting earlier this month, said the militant group had already presented its demands which include the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from the conflict-ridden country.
“In the first meeting, the Taliban set three main conditions for any possible peace deal: the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, removing the names of Taliban commanders from a US Department of State blacklist, and the exchange of prisoners,” Mohammad Natiqi, a former Afghan ambassador to Libya, told DW, adding the Afghan delegation had asked Taliban for a ceasefire.
Natiqi, a member of the Afghan delegation that met with the Taliban representatives on July 8 at Murree – a hilly resort near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad – will also attend the second round of talks planned for the end of July in either Pakistan or China, two countries involved in the first direct encounter between the government and the insurgents.
While President Ghani has voiced optimism about the ongoing talks, experts say that meeting the demands made by both sides and ultimately reaching a peace deal will be difficult and “highly unlikely.”
Siegfried O. Wolf, director of research at the Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) and a researcher at the University of Heidelberg’s South Asia Institute, describes the ongoing process as “negotiating the non-negotiable.”
“Albeit a ceasefire is a necessary condition for any peace talks in Afghanistan, a complete withdrawal of international troops is absolutely incompatible with the interests of any severe stakeholders, and therefore highly unlikely,” he told DW, warning the condition could serve as a pretext for the Taliban to continue their armed struggle.
The insurgents have been fighting a bloody war against the Afghan government and its international allies since the group was ousted from power in 2001. Analyst O. Wolf is of the view that by engaging in these talks the Taliban are aiming to rather broaden their armed struggle than reaching a peace deal.
“In the upcoming round of peace talks, the Taliban will get an additional opportunity to undermine Afghanistan’s democracy from within and to push their Islamic fundamentalist agenda in the political-administrative structure,” he noted.
Divided from within
Taliban leader Mullah Omar was attributed with issuing a statement after the Murree meeting, saying that “negotiations were a legitimate way to achieving goals.” The leader of the militant group, however, added that his fighters would continue the war against the Afghan government until all foreign forces left the country. These words were considered the most pro-peace negotiations comments made by the group’s leader who had dismissed any previous contacts with Kabul.
Many experts question the authority of those involved in the negotiations, saying both the Taliban and the Afghan government are divided from within over the issue. But it seems President Ghani is also facing opposition from some strong stakeholders in his government who fought against the Taliban post-2001.
While Ghani calls the Taliban “brothers” and “political opponents,” his first vice president and former warlord General Abdul Rashid Dustam recently told Afghan media he wouldn’t refer to the group members as brothers. But that’s not all. Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah’s press office refers to the group as terrorists, adding that negotiations have failed to deliver any results thus far.
No other choice?
Despite all the questions and uncertainties surrounding the peace negotiations, the ongoing talks have been the most successful attempt yet to engage with the Taliban. It is also the first time Pakistan, China and United States are attending the meetings as observers.
“Both Afghan government and Taliban members should seize this opportunity to build trust and understanding,” Haroon Mir, an analyst and former member of Afghanistan’s Centre for Research and Policy Studies, told DW.
Thomas Ruttig, co-director and co-founder of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, believes the outcome of peace talks will ultimately depend on how much both sides are willing to compromise, saying there is a “very long and complicated way ahead.”
“There is no guarantee the process will yield a positive result, but it needs to be tried.”
Siegfried O. Wolf, however, warns that a sustainable peace process which includes the Taliban is “impossible,” arguing that the group has major ideological differences with the government in Kabul.
“There are no moderate or good Taliban since there is an anti-systemic and anti-democratic force which is trapped in its own fundamentalist ideology. In order to keep the movement going, they have to reject Afghanistan’s current democratic system of governance, its constitution and any consensus based negotiated power-sharing,” said O. Wolf.