There was a glimmer of optimism earlier this week when the USA announced it would enter into direct negotiations with the Taliban, via the Taliban’s new office in Qatar. That optimism did not last long. Hamid Karzai slammed the USA and broke off talks because the Taliban presented themselves too much like an alternate government. The talks that were meant to begin today look like they may be stillborn.

Why are these talks failing? An observer of the region sends along some trenchant analysis:

The opening of Taliban’s office – complete with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan flag – has the feel of a Taliban embassy more than that of the political office for negotiations that the Afghan government had agreed to. The Taliban’s statement at the opening event said the purpose of the office is to engage with the countries of the world. There was neither a mention of the Afghan government nor an attempt to take into confidence the political opposition in Afghanistan. As a result, the government and the Afghan political opposition are united in their negative reaction to the office. They are also united in their anger at the US, which conceived and pushed for the Taliban office.

This is why even if the talks lead to a breakthrough in Qatar, there is no guarantee of peace in Kabul. The political opposition has remained loyal to the current form of democratic governance, but if future power-sharing modalities are worked out in Qatar without significant consultation with them, the political opposition’s loyalty to the system cannot be guaranteed.

The office and the beginning of the talks aren’t by themselves gauantees that peace will come or even that violence will subside. The US, which has pushed the hardest to get the talks to this point, has allowed an end to the violence to become an objective of the talks rather than a precondition.

The Taliban in Qatar may have stood in front of the very TV cameras that they had banned and smashed a decade ago, but that is no indication they have changed much on other issues such as women’s rights, protection of religious and ethnic minorities, education or personal freedoms.

The Taliban have no reason to believe they are losing the war, so they have a weak incentive to honestly talk peace or adhere to its outcomes. The office is a diplomatic win for the Taliban, handed to them by America and Qatar. It gives little hope for peace in Afghanistan.

 

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