Representatives of Afghan Government, Taliban Meet in Qatar as Conflict Continues

On Saturday the 17th of July, Afghan politicians and Taliban representatives met in Qatar once more in efforts to end fighting in Afghanistan. With the ongoing withdrawal of foreign fighters in recent weeks, Taliban forces have been able to amass serious gains in a short period. Recent estimates find that the Taliban now controls over 50% of the nation, with the group getting ever closer to Kabul.

In Qatar, both sides continued to reiterate their desire for peace. At the beginning of high-level talks that are intended to last two days, Abdullah Abdullah – the head of the Afghan government’s High Council for National Reconciliation – said, “Let’s … take important steps to continue the peace process, to prevent the killing of the people… Because we cannot pay the price for this in blood and we cannot escape responsibility for it”. The Taliban’s deputy leader and negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, expressed his remorse over a lack of progress. “But there should still be hope and the Taliban will make efforts for talks to have positive result,” he said. While negotiations in Doha have been in progress since September last year, substantial progress is yet to be made. It remains crucial for both sides to keep dialogue open and to try to reach some form of agreement, particularly as recent Taliban gains reveal the group’s strength – or conversely, the weakness of the current Afghan government. With a current schedule of full foreign withdrawal by September 11 of this year, only two months remain for the groups to attain a firm peace deal.

However, ensuring a fair peace deal that keeps the Afghan civilians in mind is proving more complicated. According to Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, the two sides have very different ideas on a solution. “Both sides are saying that dialogue is the only way forward and they believe that a solution for a peaceful Afghanistan can only come from the table – but actions on the ground speak a very different language,” he told Al Jazeera. “There seems to be no headway, no real tangible progress. The Afghan side insist that there needs to be a ceasefire before there could be any real dialogue, and the Taliban insist that they want their version of Sharia, they want a government that is comprehensive and includes all sides of Afghanistan,” he said. Indeed, the Taliban’s insistence on a form of Sharia is particularly troublesome, as many fear this will see significant rollback on the rights of Afghanistan’s women. While some representatives of the group previously claimed they would not seek to undo such progress, reports have emerged that in Taliban-controlled regions various restrictions on women’s education, clothing, and freedom of movement have already been imposed.

For the sake of civilians, peace in Afghanistan must be achieved, and soon. According to the United Nations’ humanitarian agency, more than 2,000 people were displaced in the Kandahar province this month alone. Since January, UN estimates see 270,000 Afghans facing internal displacement since January, bringing the total number of people forced from their homes to more than 3.5 million. These numbers only seem set to grow. However, any peace deal must also take into account the social progress made in Afghanistan over the previous two decades. With the September 11 deadline rapidly approaching, it is hoped that the Afghan government will be able to ensure a positive, stable, and most of all workable peace for the people of Afghanistan.