What you need to know when the troubled Afghanistan Peace Negotiation enters a new phase

KABUL, Afghanistan – After four decades of fighting in Afghanistan, the peace talks between the Afghan governments and the Taliban have raised at least the possibility that one day the long cycle of violence might end.

But that milestone is a long way. The most recent round of discussion, which began in September, was rife with bureaucratic bottlenecks and months-long debates on minor issues.

And while those talks lead to an agreement on the principles and procedures that will guide the next round of peace talks, they come at a cost. While the two sides met in Doha, Qatar, blood spilled on the battlefields and in the cities of Afghanistan increased.

For now with the peace talks scheduled to be re-convened on January 5, the details of what is being negotiated next remain murky.

While both the Afghan and Taliban governments have said they won’t publicly list their priorities for the next round of talks, this is what security analysts, researchers, governments, and other Taliban officials expect – and what hinders these talks to be overcome.

The ultimate goal of the negotiations is to create a political roadmap for a future government. The head of the government’s negotiating team, Masoom Stanikzai, said on Wednesday that a ceasefire would be the delegation’s top priority. The Taliban, who have used attacks against security forces and civilians as leverage, instead seeks to negotiate a form of governance based on strict Islamic law before discussing any orders. Let’s stop firing.

But solving these larger fundamental problems will not be easy, as the two sides are still stuck on the meaning of basic terms like “ceasefire” and “Islam”. There are many forms of ceasefire, from permanent and national to partial and conditional, but the public part of the February agreement between the United States and the Taliban that calls for the complete withdrawal of US troops mentions that the are not required specifically or completely define what it will look like.

The Taliban also declined to state their meaning as “Islam,” and the government’s insistence on an “Islamic” republic has been the subject of heated debate.

“The Taliban said they wanted an Islamic system but they did not specify what kind,” said Abdul Haifiz Mansoor, a member of the Afghan negotiating team, pointing out that there are almost as many systems as the Islamic nations. spear.

Also complicating the next round of talks was the Taliban demanding the government release more Taliban prisoners. The government’s release of more than 5,000 prisoners removed the final obstacle to talks in September, but President Ashraf Ghani has so far refused to release anyone else.

Both sides have exploited field violence in Afghanistan to leverage the negotiations in Doha, but the Taliban are more aggressive in their attacks than the government, and their military tends to stay in base and checkpoint, responding to persistent attacks.

However, the killings of members of security forces and civilians increased while talks are underway this fall, according to a New York Times vote count, before taking down once the The Afghan and Taliban government negotiators announced in early December that they had reached an agreement on a procedure for future cold weather negotiations that is likely to also contribute to the decline. At least 429 pro-government forces were killed in September and at least 212 civilians in October – the worst toll collection of each in more than a year.

Atiqullah Amarkhel, a military analyst in Kabul, said: “Killing and bloodshed have reached new heights. “What kind of will is this for peace?”

Ibraheem Bahiss, an independent research analyst on Afghanistan, said the Taliban are pursuing two actions simultaneously: violence and negotiation.

“Their aim is to be in power and to have a specific type of government system,” Mr. Bahiss said. “Whether they get there through talk or through combat, both require expenses that they are willing to bear.”

Although the Taliban have significantly reduced their direct attacks on US forces since February, the rebel group has significantly expanded the territory they control by encircling local security forces.

In response, the Americans launched airstrikes in the event that the Afghan military was in a dire straits to the onslaught of the Taliban. A Taliban official said the group’s level of violence was direct response to air strikes of the United States, or the lack of goodwill diplomatic and military moves by the Afghan government.

US airstrikes saved the devastating defenses of Afghan units in Kandahar and Helmand provinces this fall, once again showing deficiencies in the Afghan ground and air force. under constant attack. According to US officials, the deteriorating morale of the forces has made General Austin S. Miller, the US-led mission commander in the country increasingly concerned.

At the same time, US troops had dropped from about 12,000 in February to 2,500 in mid-January, with plans to fully withdraw by May if the deal is upheld. That leaves Afghan officials unsure how their forces will hold their ground without US support.

The importance of talks with the United States was underlined in November, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Doha and met negotiators, and again in mid-December, when the Chairman of the Board of Participants. The Chief of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, did the same thing.

A Pentagon statement said General Milley pressed the Taliban “to reduce violence immediately,” a term that US officials have used many times this year, with multiple interpretations. American officials are trying to establish balance on the battlefield.

Both sides are also waiting to see if President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr will follow the withdrawal schedule or can imagine, moving to renegotiate the entire agreement.

If Mr. Biden decides to leave a remaining US military counterterrorism force in Afghanistan after May 2021, as some US lawmakers are proposing, Mr. Bahiss said, “The Taliban have made it clear that there will be no effect the entire agreement. “

Faced with the verdicts and suspicions in Doha, some Afghan analysts fear the talks could stand still for months.

Syed Akbar Agha, former leader of the Jaish-ul-Muslimeen group of the Taliban, said: “The distrust between the two sides has led to an increase in violence, but nothing has been done to remove that suspicion.” .

That could indefinitely delay serious efforts to address core government concerns like human rights, free press, women’s rights and religious minorities, and elections. democracy, among others.

Taliban negotiators, for example, say they support women’s rights, but only under strict Islamic law. That means the Taliban harshly oppressed women when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, many analysts say.

The deeply divided government in Kabul also worries that the Taliban will try to run out of time until all US forces leave, while the Taliban contend that Mr. Ghani, who was re-elected in a gay election. last spring, is discontinuing service. expires its five-year term. If some form of national unity government or a transitional government is agreed upon, Ghani will find it difficult to stay as president.

Another complicating problem is the rift within the Taliban, from tough commanders in Afghanistan to political negotiators in Doha hotels. Some Taliban factions believe they should fight and defeat the Americans and the Afghan government, not negotiate with them.

Mr Agha, the former Taliban leader, said that little progress has been made unless an impartial mediator emerges could break the distrust of Doha.

“If not,” he said, “I don’t think the next round of negotiations will end with a positive outcome.”

Some analysts fear an even more ominous outcome. Torek Farhadi, a former adviser to the Afghan government, said, “One thing is clear – if there is no settlement, we are moving towards a civil war.”

Najim Rahim, Fahim Abed and Fatima Faizi contributed reports from Kabul.

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