The Afghan Peace Talks: 6th Round

Spearhead Opinion – 24.05.2019

By Hira A. Shafi
Senior Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

In early May 2019, Zalmay Khalilzad met with co-founder of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar concluding the sixth round of talks between US and Afghan Taliban in Qatar. Working out a timeline for US troop withdrawal and ensuring Afghan territory is not used as a launch pad for attacks by terrorist organizations is on the top agenda of both parties. In an attempt to deepen consensus on a regional level, Khalilzad also visited Russia and China this month, to ensure an all-encompassing intra-Afghan dialogue is backed by all regional players. Despite the dialogue aiming to seek a political solution, fighting also continues between US and Taliban forces.

Coinciding with the sixth round of US-Taliban talks, the Afghan President convened a jirga as an effort to develop local consensus on Kabul’s conditions for talks with the Afghan Taliban. President Ghani called for mutual truce, an Afghan owned solution and as a goodwill gesture, the President agreed to release 175 Taliban prisoners in response to demands made by the jirga. The outcome of the jirga produced limited success because several key political figureheads boycotted the meeting due to various political contentions. In the recent past, Taliban has engaged in dialogue with various Afghan political heads but refuses to speak with delegations representing themselves under the official banner of the Afghan Government. The Afghan political landscape is fluid at the moment due to pre-election shifting alliances. Negotiations are expected to be the most contentious at the sub-national level. A direct dialogue between Afghan government and Taliban, carving equitable power sharing mechanisms for the array of ethno-political demands and ultimately gaining a broad-based consensus on the type of the future political system for Afghanistan. Reportedly, Khalilzad wants to conclude peace talks much ahead of US Presidential polls next year and guide in carving out some form of political consensus in Afghanistan prior to the Afghan Presidential elections -now postponed to September 2019. Afghanistan was supposed to shift towards an interim set up which would ensure a smooth transition based on the will of the people. But this motion was blocked due to Indian elbow nudging to the US. Encouraging an intra-Afghan dialogue which is able to conclude its own political fate, would require a coherent regional and international support with minimum interference is altering the political trajectory of Afghanistan.

It is believed that based on past precedents a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and US is the correct step towards a peaceful path. However, key areas remain to be worked out, a major question remains- who monopolizes violence under the future political dispensation. Afghanistan has turned into an arena where a nexus of arms, drugs, bleak law and order -has created independent spheres of power. This phenomenon adds to the anxieties of infighting resulting from political contentions. Reportedly, elements from various terrorist organizations are finding shelter in Afghanistan, Daesh has also made its imprint- so far locally, Afghan Taliban is heavily supporting the Afghan forces in pushing back threats like Daesh. To ensure that Afghan territory is not used by terrorist organizations requires augmenting the capacity and capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces- which so far has proved challenging. A dialogue between US- Afghan Taliban is a first step in the arduous peace process, the collective efforts of US-Russia-China and support of regional players also becomes essential.