DesPardes + PKonweb

Afghanistan Peace Talks: One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

Last year, the Taliban and US-led forces observed ceasefire during the holy month of Ramadan and festival of Eid– without peace talks. Not this time though despite peace talks.

DESPARDES News Monitor — Participants in the intra-Afghan talks in Moscow failed to make an agreement, former Governor of Afghanistan’s Balkh Province Atta Mohammad Noor told reporters on Thursday.

“There is only a statement saying that the ceasefire talks will continue,” he said in response to a TASS question.

According to some observers, “ceasefire talks” were being held between the Taliban and the US in Doha over several months followed by intra-party dialogue on political issues.

The Taliban however insist that ceasefire must follow international forces first leaving Afghanistan for peace to be agreed.

Observers say the Afghan peace process is a complex one. “The major powers, regional players and domestic stakeholders are not sincere and not on one page,” said a senior Pakistani defense expert on condition of anonymity.

“The Islamic Emirate wants peace but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace and end the occupation of Afghanistan,” the Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund said, appearing openly on television.

Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, Taliban’s political chief, said “no other option” was possible.

The group and the US have held several talks over the months in Doha– back-ended by Islamabad as it wants peace in the region.

Withdrawal of foreign troops, or ceasefire first, however, remain an issue between the two sides intra-party talks in Moscow notwithstanding.

The US and the Taliban have reached a draft agreement on some issues though, but no new date for the next round of talks has been set and many obstacles remain.

The Taliban’s refusal to deal directly with President Ghani’s Western-backed government in Kabul, which the group dismisses as a “puppet” regime, remains one of the issues.

The intra-Afghan talks on political reconciliation is part of a roadmap for lasting peace all sides are eager to grab on.

The group told Aljazeera ‘decent progress’ had been made in talks with senior Afghan politicians but there is no breakthrough and further talks would be needed.

The Taliban delegation, led by Akhund, met Afghan politicians, including senior regional leaders and candidates planning to challenge President Ashraf Ghani in this year’s presidential election.

The talks which took place in Moscow on May 28 thru May 30 was opened by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said his country sees peace as the only possible scenario of settlement in Afghanistan.

Several independent observers say it’s not just about Afghanistan–drawing parallel with defense expert’s observations. “Some cover the stories, let’s wait and see how the stories uncover.”

Mohammad Karim Khalili, the head of the High Peace Council, the main body charged with pursuing peace efforts, said dozens of people were being killed in fighting every day and it was time for a “dignified and just mechanism” to end the bloodshed.

Observers believe a civil strife will follow if sustainable peace is not negotiated in good faith as the Afghan peace process is a complex one says a senior Pakistani defense expert.

On 16 December 2014, six gunmen (all foreign nationals) conducted a terrorist attack on the Army Public School in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar killing 149 people including 132 schoolchildren, ranging between eight and eighteen years of age making it one of the world’s deadliest school massacre.

“The major powers, regional players and domestic stakeholders are not sincere and not on one page,” the expert said on condition of anonymity.

According to him ad seriatim, 1. All parties want to secure their interests and are not working towards overall peace. 2. International and regional players use Afghan soil to pursue their interests and settle their scores. 3. The most destabilizing role is that of India, which has over-sized influence but no immediate interest in peace. 4. Pakistan is genuinely interested in peace in Afghanistan but in the eye of the storm of a bigger geostrategic game. 5. Iran will be a spoiler due to its tussle with USA. 6. China is too cautious and timid and has yet to develop its diplomatic and military clout. 7. Russia may be keen to push the peace process but doesn’t have the resources to push the peace drive. 8. US seems to be in a hurry to leave Afghanistan and is rudderless under Trump with his stupidity.

“Where does all this leave us? NO WHERE,” the expert emphasized. “Afghanistan will continue to suffer with spillover effects on its immediate neighbors.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to host more than 1.5 million Afghan refugees– at its peak in the early 2000s, the number of refugees had spiked as high as 2.5 million.

And the never-ending 17-year US war in its western neighborhood has cost the country more than 70,000 lives and $230 billion in economic losses.

Extremism and terrorism that had spilled over into Pakistan have drastically reduced though, as a result of the National Action Plan (NAP) launched by the country in 2014.

Meanwhile, even a semblance of peace and stability remains a pipedream in its western neighborhood. Lately, India upped its ante on Pakistan’s eastern border and both sides boots and armory are on ground.

Afghanistan’s other neighbors fear (more than 23,000 US and NATO coalition troops remain in Afghanistan) their backyard could become a mess again just like in the 80s when invading Soviets were dispatched home in a protracted 11-year war fought against them by US and its allies including Pakistan.

“The US left in a hurry,” many observers say, and an opinion also carried through with exhaustive analysis by several renowned Think Tanks.

The Taliban, who control substantial part of the country, have been reiterating their position that no ceasefire was possible while foreign forces remained on Afghan soil. 

And the fight goes on, each side seeking a position of strength in ongoing talks.

On Thursday, a suicide bomb blast near a military training academy in Kabul killed at least six security personnel and injured 16 other people.

A string of recent attacks in Kabul have killed dozens of people, including prominent Islamic scholars.

Afghan forces raided a Taliban-run detention facility in the volatile southern Zabul Province and freed 18 prisoners, including 12 security personnel.

The violence comes amid intense deadly clashes between U.S. backed forces and Taliban insurgents elsewhere in Afghanistan.

The Afghan intelligence agency also announced in a separate statement its special forces killed 60 Taliban fighters in overnight ground and airstrikes in the Maidan Wardak province.

The insurgent group in a statement rejected official claims as “enemy propaganda,” saying the clashes killed only three Taliban fighters and injured eight others. It went on to claim that 12 Afghan security forces were killed and the Taliban captured a security outpost in the process.

Both sides routinely make inflated battlefield claims, which are difficult to verify from independent sources.

Last year, the Taliban and US-led forces observed ceasefire during the holy month of Ramadan and festival of Eid. Talks were a pipedream then. This time there’s no ceasefire as before but peace talks are on amid violence.

Several independent observers say it’s not just about Afghanistan–drawing parallel with defense expert’s observations.

“Some cover the stories, let’s wait and see how the stories uncover.”