Government to be Under Pressure for a Political Retreat
Given the Taliban’s upper hand in the war and fears that the war will escalate, it is possible that the government will be forced to retreat in order to mobilize peace talks. The first predictable step in this retreat is the release of the nearly 1,000 remaining Taliban prisoners from government custody. The second step in the withdrawal will be taken by the UN Security Council. In this step, the names of the leaders of the Taliban and its affiliate institutions will be removed from the council’s 1988’s blacklist. It seems that the Taliban will not fall off the saddle of war without the withdrawal of the Afghan government and the UN Security Council in these two areas. The Afghan government will also be subject to international pressure to comply with this setback.
The release of Taliban prisoners and the abolition of the UN Security Council blacklist of dozens of members of the leadership and its affiliate institutions are among the Taliban’s main preconditions for peace with the Afghan government. The Taliban had set the preconditions at a time when peace talks between the government and the Taliban were to be hosted by Pakistan. These talks were held only once on July 7, 2015, hosted by Pakistan, which was also attended by representatives of the United States and China. The second round of talks did not take place due to the revelation of the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader and founder of the Taliban, and the two sides again turned to the battlefield.
These two preconditions are so important to the Taliban that, with the United States underestimating them, it was close to shutting down negotiations with the Taliban. The US ambassador’s initial attempt at peace in Afghanistan was simply to pay a ransom to establish a ceasefire and start peace talks between Afghans. The Taliban have officially warned that they will not give up after the third round of talks hosted by the United Arab Emirates. Following this warning, the United States, in addition to pledging to leave, was forced to pledge to release Taliban prisoners and abolish the blacklist.
The intra-Afghan peace talks have also stalled due to differences over the two issues. The Taliban also refused to attend the Turkish Summit due to the non-fulfillment of US commitments on the two issues. The group has used only these two issues to justify its offensive and advances into government-controlled areas. Thus, it can be seen that the Taliban has taken a very strict stance on the release of its prisoners and the abolition of the blacklist, which is unlikely to change through dialogue.
On the other hand, the positions of neighboring countries, regional powers and major global actors on the issue of Afghanistan are almost the same. All of these countries are concerned about the continuing violence in Afghanistan and see dialogue as the only solution. No country has yet been found that has at least supported the ongoing war in Afghanistan in its declared policy. While both the Afghan government and the Taliban are receiving external financial and weapons support, all countries are in agreement to end the war through dialogue. Therefore, it is not possible to find a country that is interested in supporting the Afghan government with the intention of destroying the Taliban or removing the group from its territory.
Given that the leverage of military pressure has not worked to change the Taliban’s position so far, the vote of neighbors, regional powers and major global actors to increase further military pressure on the Taliban is not expected to be positive. These countries are generally and to a lesser extent concerned about the consequences of prolonging the Afghan government’s war with the Taliban. Their perception is that in the absence of international forces, the war in Afghanistan may be directed in a direction that results in nothing but the collapse of the government, civil war, and the resumption in activities of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. For this reason, no country has so far persuaded the Afghan government to continue fighting the Taliban until the group is eliminated. Of course, the only aid promised by the United States and NATO to Afghanistan is to support the survival of the central government until a comprehensive peace agreement is reached.
However, most efforts by neighbors, regional powers, and global actors in the coming weeks and months will focus on preventing the Taliban from advancing further. These countries will continue to work to force the Afghan government to be flexible with the release of the group’s remaining prisoners in exchange for the Taliban’s commitment to refrain from further progress. The Afghan government will eventually comply with the prisoner release plan because it has failed to demonstrate its strength in the fight against the Taliban. If the UN Security Council sees that the Taliban are interested in peace, they will remove one of the two excuses the Taliban use for continuing to war. This is the only persuasive approach that the international community expects to use to rekindle the peace talks between the government and the Taliban.
In the current situation, the Taliban determine the conditions for war and peace. This is a bitter truth that cannot be concealed. The government could only change the state of war by relying on the forces of popular resistance (voluntary local forces). Given that the government’s plan for the spontaneous uprising of the people against the Taliban is not very clear, it seems that the government is not interested in giving any special attention to these forces. Meanwhile, some countries, including Pakistan, have expressed concern about the activities of such spontaneous popular resistance groups. In such a situation, the government’s preference would be to retreat in the case of the release of the remaining Taliban prisoners in the hope that the group will stop advancing on the fronts. President Ghani has previously said he was ready to release Taliban prisoners on the condition that they bring peace to Afghanistan. This retreat, however, will be useful when done with the utmost caution and with a strong guarantee from the international community. Otherwise, the Taliban will benefit from the retreat as it did with the previous one.