Afghan- Taliban Peace talks Begin

Following nearly two decades of war that killed tens of thousands, peace talks have begun in Doha, Qatar’s capital between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban. These are the first direct talks between the Taliban and Afghan government leaders. Until now, the Taliban had refused to meet the government, calling them weak and American puppets. However, both sides are looking for political reconciliation and an end to the decades of bloodshed that started with the 1979 Soviet invasion. Further, international reports say that 12,000 civilians were killed and another 15,000 wounded just after the US signed a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban on February 29th.
The talks were supposed to begin in March. However, a disagreement over the prisoner swap negotiated in the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February as well as violence in the region repeatedly postponed that. It took the agreement over a year to finalize, and the negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are expected to be much more complicated. Many fear that fragile gains in women’s rights could be lost in the process.

Key speakers at Saturday’s opening ceremony at a hotel in Doha included Abdullah Abdullah, the chairperson of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The negotiations, where the two warring sides will sit face-to-face for the first time, will start on Monday. For his part, Abdullah spoke about seeking a dignified and lasting peace. “I believe that if we give hands to each other and honestly work for peace, the current ongoing misery in the country will end,” Abdullah said, calling for a “humanitarian ceasefire”. Meanwhile Baradar, repeated his group’s demand for the country to adopt an “Islamic system”.

“We want Afghanistan to be an independent, developed country, and it should have a form of the Islamic system, where all its citizens see themselves reflected.”
The Taliban want to reshape Afghanistan as an Islamic “emirate,” while President Ashraf Ghani’s administration wants to uphold the Western-backed status quo of a constitutional republic which has enshrined many rights, including greater women’s freedoms.
For his part, Pompeo told the Afghan sides that “the future political structure is, of course, the choice to make,” as he urged them to “take the chance” to achieve peace. “Each of you, I hope you will look inside your hearts; each of you carry great responsibility, but know that you’re not alone. The entire world wants you to succeed and is counting on you to succeed,” he said. Kicking off proceedings earlier on Saturday, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said both parties must “rise above all form of division … by reaching an agreement based on no victor and no vanquished”.

The talks are also a challenge for the Taliban, who will need to show a concrete political vision for Afghanistan. So far, they have been ambiguous, saying they want to see an “Islamic” nation, but also “inclusive.” In the meantime, the talks could provide more evidence of how the extremist group has improved since the 1990s when they ruled using a strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Many Afghans believe any return to power by the Taliban – partial or in full – could lead to a return to Islamic sharia law. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch called on all participants in the talks to promise to uphold fundamental rights as they outline the future of the nation. Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at the advocacy group, said that “all participants in any future Afghan government should commit to institutions and processes to uphold women’s rights and a free press, end torture in custody and ensure justice for abuses”.

In February, the insurgents claimed victory after signing the Qatari-mediated deal with Washington which set a timetable for talks. Qatar has secretly driven the process complicated by Afghanistan’s violence and the coronavirus epidemic, with Doha’s chief negotiator Mutlaq al-Qahtani emphasizing “the strength of diplomacy” on Thursday. Doha welcomed the Taliban to open a political office in 2013, and supported the troop withdrawal agreement between Washington and the Taliban in February. The agreement has resulted in intense moments like when the Taliban raised their flag above the office in Kabul, sparking fury.

By Jumana Jabeer

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