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August 18, 2019

Time for peace


August 18, 2019

Bye editorial board

Could the eight rounds of talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban finally have come close to producing results? At the end of the latest process, which concluded in Doha on August 4 ahead of Eidul Azha, Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy to Afghanistan, hinted that the latest round of talks had been very ‘productive’. He did not however say in clear terms that the long-awaited deal had been struck. Both sides would now be consulting with their leaderships, with Khalilzad having returned to Washington. It is important that they reach a decision without further delay. There is simply no further time available. Presidential elections in Afghanistan are scheduled for September 28 and the Taliban have, according to reports, made threats that these could be targeted unless a solid peace deal is drawn up. Afghan analysts have suggested the polls be delayed. But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani staunchly opposes this, especially as he is the frontrunner in the race with the strongest competitor having withdrawn.

For the US, the most vital part of the peace process is reaching an agreement with the Taliban that they will not use Afghan soil for terrorist attacks. This of course was the issue which led to the invasion of Afghanistan in the first place in 2001. A deal with the Taliban would then involve the withdrawal of almost half of the 14,000 US troops currently stationed in Afghanistan, a move that would of course be enthusiastically welcomed in the US and would bring brownie points to President Trump ahead of his second presidential campaign. Khalilzad does however seem somewhat concerned about the timeframe now left to him ahead of the Afghan polls and observers note his tweets over the most recent weeks have not been as upbeat as was the case before.

For Afghans, the concerns are different. Many are anxious to ensure that the democracy Afghanistan has gained, the rights for women, and the control over human rights abuses can be maintained. Too many remember the horrors of the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, when ethnic minorities and dissidents were tortured and in some cases executed in public. Afghans do not wish to see a return to such a bloodbath, though many would welcome an exit by the US which has in the first place been party to the unfolding horrors in Afghanistan since the Soviet withdrawal of 1989.

Pakistan has been facilitating the talks, mainly by using what influence it has with the Taliban. The pledge that it would continue to do so was given by PM Imran Khan himself to President Trump in Washington last month. But as Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has pointed out, influencing the Taliban who hold nearly half of Afghan territory is not an easy matter. We can only hope that in one way or the other, peace will return to Afghanistan. There is as yet no absolute assurance that this will be the case.

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