The world may be watching, but will the Afghan-Taliban peace talks actually achieve anything?
As the much stalled peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government get underway in Doha, many followers of the conflict that has plagued the country are not holding their breath for a satisfactory conclusion between the two groups.
The world’s eyes are on a hotel room in Doha, Qatar with the Taliban again taking a centre stage in international press at a level not seen since shortly after 9/11. These long awaited yet staggered talks between the Afghan goverment delgations and representatives from the fundamentalist militant group come hot on the coatails of the US-Taliban deal in Febuary 2020 which saw US officals signing a deal aimed at bringing an end to the United States’ presence in Afghanistan, and their longest war following the invasion in 2001.
The path to peace never runs smoothly as the discussions are already off to a rocky start, with their existence only coming into play due to a controversial deal to release over 5,000 Taliban prisoners in order to even cement the historic peace talks as a possibility.
There have been recent reports that the US envoy to Afghanistan called said he was ‘not happy’ about the latter arrangement, in which the Afghanistan goverment was not involved but rather was an agreement of the previous US-Taliban deal. It’s been seen as a step forward to bringing peace to the nation however, the Taliban are less hesitant to pursue the talks further, with members even pictured during the current discussions looking bored and uninterested. The Taliban are also strenuously avoiding even referring to the historic meetings as a peace deal; whilst the US are enthusiastically supporting the ideal situation in which both the Taliban and the Afghan government settles on an agreement of some sorts or at least settles on something.
What that something looks like at the moment, is not only vague, but almost incoherent. The Taliban are not shifting their one main desire, that Afghanistan is ruled under their interpretation of Islamic Shari’a law.
The Afghan government has called for a ceasefire and Abdullah Abdullah, who is in Qatar representing the government delegation, has reportedly said he believes ‘there is no winner through war.’ But Taliban representatives have ignored this request stating they will only agree to one once a settlement has been reached. This means that during the talks, activities on both sides will continue. Just hours before the talks actually started press reports indicated that dozens of Taliban linked fighters were killed by Afghan security forces in the Kandahar, Nangahar, Zabul and Baghlan provinces on Friday night and according to the Defense Ministry, the violence continued after peace talks actually launched. All this is the shadow of uncertainty of how long these discussions will go on, begging the question of how many more casualties will suffer throughout. One compromise has been put forward, that of a humanitarian ceasefire, that would allow aid, medical and food/water supplies to be delivered into the country. However the status of this remains unclear at this time.
Fractions between both sustain from The Taliban claiming the Afghan government are ‘puppets’ of the United States, who have been involved in the war since 2001 making it the latter country’s longest ever conflict. It’s also a conflict that is not also not deescalating as it was reported during the talks that over 12,000 people have been killed since February this year.
Not budging on their main desire, The Taliban have openly stated they want an inclusive Islamic governing system in Afghanistan but remain firm on their policy of not wanting typical elections. The Afghan goverment however want to perseve the country’s democracy, human rights and civil liberties. Both agree that they want Afghanistan to remain as Islamic country, with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan stating both the government delegation and Taliban highlight the importance of sovereignty and independence within the country.
That sought after inclusive goverment doesn’t appear to involve women under Taliban rule, with the Taliban group in Doha reportedly not having a single female member of their negotiating team. The current rights of women is something that Western world hopes the talks will at least address. But that is not looking likely as the main focus of the talk is at least agree on anything that forges a path towards peace. The goal is to sit around the table, human rights appear to be on the agenda, but are not exactly pressing.
This has deeply worried human rights groups across the world, who often highlight Afghanistan’s Taliban actions as an example of gender apartheid. Women living under Taliban restrictions face public floggings, are required to dress in full burqa, can’t attend medical appointments without a male chaperone, and are not educated past the age of eight years old. In the early 2000s, human rights watchdog, Amnesty International reported that over 80 percent of marriages in the country were forced, with 9 percent of girls married before the age of 15.
Anti-child marriage group, Girls Not Brides state that “Afghanistan has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. During its Voluntary National Review at the 2017 High Level Political Forum, the government highlighted that it is working to reduce the number of girls who marry before the legal age to 10% by 2030.” With these goals a decade away, many are commenting on the factor that women now face the brunt of the impact of these talks, having been already been a massive casualty of the entire conflict.
The Taliban appeared to attempt to soften these concerns during the opening remarks of the historic talks, when Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top political figure, referenced the worries over the groups reputation on human rights saying the group wants an Afghanistan “where everyone lives in peace and harmony and no one feels discrimination.” The Taliban also claim support interpretations of human rights and that women’s rights that don’t conflict with Islamic law, despite numerous reports and instances that show the opposite.
The desire is that both sides meet often, having seen the regular collapse of the US talks, Khalilzad told reporters Saturday that “[he’s] heard positive things about the [first] meeting between the two sides” and that smaller groups of representaives will meet to forward any decisions and have also allegedly agreed on a method of communication. That method agreed is one that firmly does not involve the United States, regardless of the previous US talks being the catalyst to pursue the groups meeting, both parties have said they wish for the US to stay out of the historic meetings. The US countered this and has said that they are willing to offer any assistance if needed, though many in the country may see this Afghan matter the US, given their history in the region, should stay well away from.
The talks are set to continue for the forseeable future despite the coronavirus pandemic, and for any achievements to take place many see the groups wildly different expectations of the outcome as the bump in the road that will derail the entire effort.
The US deal was achieved in part because over 7,000 miles separate the two countries, however these talks will likely prove tricker as it deals with these direct warring neighbours.
Kurtis Reid is a freelance journalist from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Follow me on Twitter here.