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March 3, 2021

Afghan peace process

Editorial

 
March 3, 2021

In yet another visit to Kabul US Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has held discussions with senior Afghan officials. The purpose of the visit was again the same: exploring ways to accelerate the peace process. Since negotiations with Taliban representatives are going on in Qatar, this visit by Khalilzad appears to be an attempt to expedite the talks. It is worth recalling that progress on the US-brokered peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban has been slow and violence-marred. The attacks and bomb blasts have engendered a high level of uncertainty in the region over the future of the government in Afghanistan. The main bone of contention for the Taliban is the question of a complete and final withdrawal of international forces from the country.

The pull-out of the foreign troops was originally planned to be completed by May 2021 but with increasing violence and with a new administration in the US it seems highly unlikely that all international forces would leave by the deadline given in the agreement signed in February 2020 between the Taliban and the American representatives. Now, Khalilzad is also planning to visit other regional capitals as part of his mission to work out a political settlement. It has become fairly difficult to reach a comprehensive and durable political arrangement acceptable to all parties without first achieving a ceasefire from the Taliban. Recently, Nato has also categorically reiterated its stance that the Taliban must adhere to a complete ceasefire before expecting a complete pull-out of the troops. As the new US administration is making its assessment of the Doha peace agreement that the Trump Administration had signed rather hastily without even involving the current government in Afghanistan, any immediate peace remains elusive.

If the development of the peace process in the past year is any guide, the ball appears to be in the Taliban's court. They have been refusing to establish and maintain a complete cessation of hostile attacks on the Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul. Though the legitimacy of the government is questionable because of the reservations by some over the fairness of elections, the Taliban too have to shoulder the blame as they have repeatedly balked at any electoral exercise. They have not participated in any elections in the past two decades and have also boycotted the Grand Jirgas which are a mechanism in Afghanistan to discuss political issues. The Taliban would do better by conducting a review of their own strategy rather than just continuing attacks and then demanding an immediate withdrawal of foreign forces. There are only 2,500 US troops remaining in Afghanistan which have been involved in America’s longest war in two centuries. This war must come to an end and all parties can only achieve peace by accommodating and listening to each other’s perspective rather than insisting on inflexible demands.