Days before the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhunzada, has called for a “political settlement” to the war in Afghanistan. Since foreign powers announced their departure earlier this year, the Taliban have been sweeping across the country. This statement comes during a weekend of talks in Doha between representatives of the Afghan government and representatives of the Taliban.
While the parties have been meeting for months, little has been achieved so far in terms of a peace agreement. And in fact, talks seemed to have slowed down with the American announcement that they would be pulling out of Afghanistan. Momentum towards peace seems to have picked up again, with the Taliban supreme leader stating that he “strenuously favours” some sort of diplomatic settlement, rather than continuing to fight.
These recent events must be taken in the context of foreign forces exiting Afghanistan after nearly 20 years. Considering this, recent shows of force and the offering of an olive branch make a lot of sense. Emboldened by the exit of their enemies, the Taliban have decided to strike while the iron is hot. A series of attacks have allowed them to capture around half of the country’s 400 districts and several border crossings. Whether it’s explicitly stated at the bargaining table, this undoubtedly strengthens their position, explaining the recent offer of an olive branch. If a deal can be struck now, it will be with a stronger hand. There are other questions that remain, however.
One question is how much control Taliban leaders have over their commanders. This has been raised before as a potential problem when crafting a peace deal. What are the chances of peace occurring if the fighters themselves won’t step down? But the ultimate question is how a peace deal will shape Afghan politics and society. The Taliban will definitely have a strong role to play in the future of Afghanistan, whatever the final deal looks like. The idea of an Afghanistan controlled in part by the Taliban may leave a bad taste in people’s mouths, but at this point, the Afghan people have paid the heaviest price for the fighting—and they will continue to pay the heaviest price unless something changes soon. Whatever one’s opinions on the politics and beliefs of either party, the fact remains that things will never improve without both sides coming together, regardless of who comes out on top.
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