Afghanistan Peace Talks Underway?


News of peace talks between the United States, backed Afghan government and the Taliban, has been revitalized after US Defence Secretary James Mattis confirmed that a discussion is currently underway. Mr. Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday 7th August that “it is still early in (the) reconciliation process.” Questions arose following US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s surprise visit to Kabul in early July and US diplomat for South Asia, Alice Wells’ more recent visit to Qatar. After initial hostile responses to invitations of peace, the Taliban, who have been fighting to regain control of Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001, appear to have begun talks with the Afghan government and the US.

 

Rumours of peace talks have been in circulation since President Ashraf Ghani made a final offer to the Taliban militant group to join them in peace talks “without any conditions” in February this year. Since then, the media has reported a number of events indicating that these talks have tentatively begun. The US Defence Secretary Mr. Mattis, would neither confirm nor deny Mr. Pompeo’s visit to Kabul on July 9th when asked at the Pentagon press conference but was careful to reiterate President Ghani’s oft-stated rhetoric that such peace talks would be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned,” a condition that many Afghanis believe vital in securing long-lasting peace in the nation. Multiple other sources from within Afghanistan have addressed and confirmed the discussions. An unnamed senior Taliban official told The Associated Press in late July that direct preliminary discussions with a US official had indeed taken place in Qatar and described the environment as “positive” and “the discussion… useful.” A former Taliban minister, Aga Jan Mohtism, also confirmed a meeting in Qatar between US officials and the Taliban during the same week, insisting that “the Taliban want to solve their problems with the Americans to end the invasion.”

 

A ceasefire is long overdue for the weary and battle-worn people of Afghanistan who have been caught up in this war for seventeen years, but what would be the implications of a negotiated peace deal with the Taliban? And what would it mean for the fight against international terrorism? The offer posed by President Ghani also included potential political recognition of the Taliban and even amnesty for Taliban fighters, lifting sanctions on their leaders and amending the constitution all in the hope of a negotiated ceasefire. The first instinct in response to this proposal is wariness, although perhaps giving the Taliban a legitimate voice and ‘seating them at the table’ so to speak, holds them up to a higher level of scrutiny and liability to the public. Might it be possible that this could disengage their rebel and insurgent status? The Afghan government’s previous attempts at quashing insurgent groups such as the Taliban through force has proved ineffective and has been detrimental to Afghan citizens. Perhaps the time has finally come for an alternative, non-combative solution.

 

A potential hurdle to overcome in the continuing peace talks is President Trump’s South Asia Strategy, which he launched last year. The new strategy essentially keeps US military forces in the region and involves a number of new approaches aimed to achieve enough stability for the US to eventually withdraw their presence. This will surely be a topic of discussion in the alleged peace-talks with the Taliban who primarily want American troops out of Afghanistan altogether. Clearly, there is still a long way to go in terms of reaching any sort of agreement, but the process has taken its first steps.

 

The State Department has gone on record as saying that “the United States is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process… with the Afghan government,” and President Ghani has extended an olive branch; “Accept peace, come to the negotiating table and let us build this country together.”