War in Afghanistan: Are the Taliban's Peace Overtures For Real?

For most of its history, Afghanistan has played theater to the ravages of war.  From the Medes to the Mongols, from Arabian conquest to Soviet invasion, this strategically important country has been no stranger to foreign boots on its soil, most recently those belonging to NATO and U.S. forces. Those boots, however, are on their way out with today's announcement of the formal turnover of security leadership to Afghan forces, with a projected full withdrawal within the next 18 months, according to the Guardian.  

But what of the Taliban? The Muslim extremist group, headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar and accused of such human rights abuses as human trafficking, violence against women, and terrorism against its own citizenry, has continued attacks against Afghani President Hamid Karzai's government for more than a decade, but now things appear to be changing. According to Al Jazeera, the Taliban is making overtures for peace by opening a political office in Qatar's capital city of Doha.

This move, hailed by President Obama as an important first step in reconciliation with the Afghani people, has many in the international community hopeful, but it also raises a vital question: Is the fundamentalist Islamic group responsible for one of the most repressive regimes in recent history capable of participating in a democratically-elected government?

The Taliban has previously refused to engage in peaceful negotiations with the Karzai government, going so far to say that it wasn't so much a democratically elected government as a puppet of the U.S. Afganistan's High Peace Council has announced that after a round of secret talks with the extremist regime, attitudes have shifted.

Perspectives among the Afghan people remain conflicted. Al Jazeera's Jane Ferguson reports that Afghanis are "extremely concerned about the developments in Doha today,"  and cites concerns over human rights abuses during the Taliban's reign as well, stating: "The Taliban said they would reject any international terrorist presence here, so from one perspective the Americans will have achieved a huge objective...What people here are asking is what about the other objectives that were sold to Afghans in 2001? Women's rights, universal human rights, democracy. Are those objectives to be sacrificed for the sake of a quick American withdrawal?"

Whatever the concerns, the Taliban remains a "resilient and determined" source of insurgency against the Karzai government, and while many in Aghganistan's war-torn capital of Kabul welcome peace, the looming question of just what the Taliban envisions when it calls for a "political process and a peaceful resolution that will bring an end to the occupation in Afghanistan and establishing an Islamic and independent government in it."