The Afghan Taliban arrived in Islamabad last week, were given a warm welcome at the Foreign Office and a cordial meeting with FM Qureshi. The main reason for the visit was a hushed meeting with US peace envoy Khalilzad brokered by Pakistan to revive the Afghan peace process. This was expected as ever since Donald Trump suspended talks, both sides are struggling to find a path to resume peace negotiations.
The US and Taliban representatives discussed ways to resume talks but now the demands have increased. The US wants a ceasefire and a role for the fragile Afghan government in the process. They have been rejected outright by the Taliban. They want assurances that the outcome of peace talks will be implemented. Both sides are testing each other’s nerves but will eventually have to reach an agreement as there is no other solution.
It seems that the Taliban will have to give certain concessions as it dawns on them that more can be gained through talks than war. The two sides are expected to reach an agreement under which the Taliban will reduce attacks on security forces, in return for not being attacked by the Americans. Both are very rigid at this moment but the US will eventually budge, and Pakistan will also push the Taliban to oblige.
The Islamabad talks have earned the ire of the Afghan government who were shunned completely from the peace process. The war-ravaged country just held a presidential election under relative calm but saw a low turnout despite which President Ashraf Ghani is expected to win a second term. He just sacked the foreign ministry’s spokesman just for verbally supporting the Taliban’s visit to Pakistan. The Afghan government called it a violation of diplomatic norms. The Afghan spy agency’s chief has called the Taliban as ‘Pakistan’s proxies’ and do not want them to regain power.
This week marked eighteen years since the Afghan war began. An entire generation in Afghanistan now knows only conflict. Violence has increased over the years as the conflict drags on, becoming the longest war in US history. There are concerns that the return of Taliban rule would end progress on issues such as girls’ education. The Afghan economy is weak, the youth are jobless thus been forced to hustle or migrate, while the remaining citizens yearn for peace in their country.
In such circumstances, the only viable solution is reviving the peace process. The US probably seeks to pressurise the Taliban by breaking off the process. Trump also needs to justify his readiness to revive the talks before the whole world. The US doesn’t want to be entangled in this conflict any longer, and the Taliban realise their victory is sooner not never. So now it’s just a matter of time when talks will finally resume.