Last week, representatives from the United States and the Taliban began Afghanistan peace talks in Qatar. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's High Peace Council is expected to follow up with its own talks with the Taliban a few days later.
The first meeting will focus on an exchange of agendas and consultations on next steps.
The Taliban’s spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid has said the the group supports the negotiating process.
Efforts toward a peace negotiation have been in process since 2010.
Still, ordinary Afghans are afraid of the possible return of the Taliban, even though the Taliban seem ready to abide by the newly-created Afghan constitution and would accept policies like women rights.
Will the newly-created Afghanistan government survivie this newest hurdle? Can the Taliban be brought into the fold? What is there place in Afghanistan's future?
PolicyMic pundit Malik Achakzai talked to leading journalist and senior Afghan analyst Ibrahim Nasar on the current peace talks.
Malik Achakzai: How successful will be the Qatar peace talks between U.S. and Taliban?
Ibrahim Nasar: Doha is not the end, but a beginning of the end of the long hectic road to peace in Afghanistan. The decision to open an office for the Taliban was made more than a year ago and its only yesterday that the office was opened. The talks and any tangible results from the talks will certainly take much longer. The Afghan war is multifaceted. It is not just the Taliban versus the Afghan government talking to each other, but the U.S., the neighboring countries and the influential kingdoms of the Gulf are all involved. The differences between the U.S. and Afghan administrations which have surfaced this week over the ownership of the newly initiated negations, along with Afghan president Hamid Karzai quickly announced the suspension of negotiations with the U.S. over the long term security agreement between the two countries, further complicates the situation.
The Pakistan-plus-Taliban side is secretive. Only insiders would know if the Taliban and the Pakistani intelligence and military (who arethought to be allies in the Afghan war) are on the same page in the Doha initiative. It’s not known how much of independence do the Taliban have in the current peace process and how much of influence do the Pakistani intelligence and military have on the Taliban and their decisions in the negotiations with the U.S. and Kabul administrations.
These are all the factors that will play in the results of the Doha process. The Taliban will have little reason to continue fighting after the withdrawal of the international forces next year, and the US does not have any stomach left for a continued war in Afghanistan. The U.S. wants an end to the war, especially after the death of Osama bin Laden and the next-to-extinct Al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan. Another reason for the U.S. wanting an end to Afghan war is the fact the U.S. has signed a long term strategic agreement with Afghanistan – that allows the former take control of eleven military bases in Afghanistan. The newly-elected government of Pakistan also seems to prefer an end to the growing influence of insurgent outfits inside Pakistan, which will also mean curtailing support for the insurgent groups fighting inside Afghanistan. There is a general feeling that the time has come when the end of war suites all sides, including the Taliban and their backers inside Pakistan. These are signs for optimism for a positive result of the Doha process.
Malik Achakzai: Are peace talks with Taliban militants a failure of the 12-year War on Terror? Won't the result be the same as in Iraq?
Ibrahim Nasar: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were very different in nature and were launched for very different reasons. The U.S. had the world mandate when it invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but the war in Iraq didn’t have the UN mandate and the very reason the U.S. invaded Iraq for – the reports of weapons of mass destruction, also proved baseless. Iraq ended up in a very bloody civilian and sectarian war right after the invasion, but Afghan ethnic and sectarian groups, despite the odds have stuck to each other under the constitution. The Taliban, despite their roots among the Pashtuns, have largely been shunned even by the same ethnic groups.
The U.S. and the international community fell short of the expectations Afghans had tied to their invasion, but the achievements during the last 11 years cannot be ignored. Afghanistan has built almost all insitutions, Afghan security forces now stand around 350,000, and have defended all the areas under their control with very little support from the international forces.
The U.S. also succeeded in killing the Al-Qaeda chief and has killed or captured many more among the top Alqaida leadership. Those still alive have very little ability of movement and communication due to the fear of drones across the world, especially in the border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The U.S. is talking with the Taliban from a position of strength. It’s not the 1989 situation when the Soviet army ran and abandoned the country and left the government of Kabul to fend for itself, or the U.S. leaving Vietnam in a panic. The U.S. has achieved most of its objective and is leaving more than ten thousand troops working with Afghan forces and taking care of eleven military bases inside Afghanistan beyond 2014. The War on Terror might have fell short all of its achievements, but it could not be called a failure.
Malik Achakzai: What will be the result of Taliban presence in Afghanistan if they are badly rejected in forthcoming elections?
Ibrahim Nasar: I don’t think the Taliban will ever win or expect any win in elections, let alone the upcoming elections in less than a year’s time. If the Taliban had any chances of winning through elections they would have probably sat for a negotiated settlement and joined the democratic process long ago. Democracy is the system they fear the most. Their strength lies in fighting and insurgency. Whatever they get through the peace negotiations will be end product in terms of their achievement – be it certain positions in the next government, blanket amnesty for all Taliban leaders and commanders, release of prisoners from Guantanamo and Afghan jails and probably some financial deals.
Malik Achakzai: Moderate Afghans are afraid of Taliban Sharia law and pre-9/11 era's return. Do you see any possibility?
Ibrahim Nasar: I don’t see any remote possibility of a 1990s style Sharia system of Taliban returning to Afghanistan. The fear of many Afghans of Taliban’s style sharia in fact is an expression of rejection of such a system. The 1990s chaos inside Afghan cities when Mujahideen turned the lives of ordinary Afghans upside down, paved the way for a brutal Sharia system of Taliban. It’s not 1990s any more. It’s a different Afghanistan on its path to recovery from a long war with a 350,000 strong security force- which has the backing of the NATO and almost all UN member countries. Afghanistan has embassies across the world. Afghan economy has 11 % annual growth, booming cities, millions of children going to schools, thriving civil society organizations, free media and well functioning institutions. These are not favorable conditions for a Taliban style Sharia. In the 21st century the basion of sharia – Saudi Arabia and the revolutionary Iran have moved a long towards moderation. Women in Saudi Arabia have been allowed to sit in some of their elected parliaments. In Iran women are part of everyday life outside their homes. They play a very significant role in their politics and economy. Women in Afghanistan have all the backing of the majority of Afghans and the international community that the achievements made during the last one decade will not be rolled back.
Malik Achakzai: The Afghan government wishes to lead tripartite peace talks otherwise they won't take part in such reconciliation process. How do you see them this time?
Ibrahim Nasar: Afghanistan will never like to be left out of the negotiations. The Taliban have tried to sideline and undermine the authority of the Afghan government by refusing to talk to the Afghan government. President Karzai welcomed the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar two days ago, but he made it clear 'the peace process must move to Afghanistan soon'. It in other words meant a direct control of the Afghan government and ownership of the negotiations with the Taliban. Just a day after the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar, president Karzai pulled out of talks on the security agreement with the United States, in a protest his government was not given enough share in contacts with the Taliban. His reaction forced the Obama administration put Secretary of State John Kerry in touch with president Karzai and reassure him of the Afghan ownership of the talks. This, after all, is an Afghan war and needs an Afghan style, and Afghan lead solution.