Following three months of talks with the Taliban in Qatar, the Afghan delegation expects the second round of talks between the two sides to be difficult. This round of peace talks is set to begin again in two days, yet again hosted by Qatar. The reason for the difficulty of the second round is the deep-seated difference of views between the two sides on the issues to be discussed in this round. Therefore, expecting an early outcome from these negotiations is pointless and futile.
After returning from Qatar, members of the government’s negotiating team publicized the results of their three months talks with the Taliban, as well as the group’s views and perceptions in various ways. Among them, Hafiz Mansoor provided one of the clearer pictures of the nature of the Taliban, and their negotiating team’s goals and intentions concerning war, peace and the future of Afghanistan. According to him, the Taliban has not changed yet. This group is still thinking of “ruling” and their main concern is seizing power. For the Taliban, religion, in Mansoor’s view, is a cover for their struggle for power and a tool to provoke the emotions of the masses and to attract public opinion.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion at the Afghanistan Institute for Strategic Studies, Mansoor said that the Taliban’s attitude was still belligerent. The group has also become “more arrogant” than in the past. According to him, the main issue that the Taliban wish to discuss at the second round of talks is the division of power. Mansoor stressed that the upholding of human rights and humanitarian values is a given for the Afghan delegation, but the problem is that the Taliban delegation is simply not ready to discuss this.
Mansoor’s perception as a member of the government’s negotiating team after three months of negotiations with the Taliban delegation in Qatar is the most realistic perception of the group’s intentions, goals and plans. In the past, it was mostly thought that the Taliban was not same group it was before, and that their goals, plans and intentions had been modified and corrected from the past. This false impression was formed due to the presence of this group at the negotiating table. The truth, however, is the one reflected in Mansoor’s statements. Other members of the delegation have not yet made such a clear statement about the Taliban’s intentions and goals, but generally acknowledge that the second-round talks will be more difficult than the first-round talks, with the failure to obtain immediate results.
Given that the Taliban’s intentions go beyond their integration into Afghan society and its power structure, peace with the group will not be achieved in the way it was with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. This method, however, will only work if the government can completely disable the group’s war machine, something that will destroy the Taliban’s financial resources and reduce its external support to zero. Otherwise, it is impossible for the Taliban to make peace with the government with the means used with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
If the government cannot defeat the Taliban in war, it must assess the areas where it can exercise flexibility against the group. The government must determine where these areas lie and what its threshold for compromise is. Only by carefully evaluating these possibilities can the path of negotiations lead to the desired agreement.
The ideal agreement is one that can meet and guarantee the interests of both the government and the Taliban. These interests must be based on currently prevailing realities, and not on the unrealistic visions that the two sides may have of the future, or the circumstances that the government and the Taliban individually decide to create for their sole benefit in the future.
Entering into negotiations will be doomed to failure if the Taliban will not satisfied with less than full power. It is not possible for the Republic to hand over power to the group as easily as the Taliban imagine. People are also by no means willing to sacrifice the values they have fought for years to achieve and maintain. Hence, the Taliban’s insistence on seizing power and ignoring the interests of the government and the demands of the republic will only thwart the negotiations.
The Taliban must understand that the current situation in Afghanistan is very different from the one 20 years ago. If this group wants an end to the war, it must approach the negotiating table grounded in reality. Otherwise, the republic will not give in to force, and the military option is anyway not an appropriate solution to end this war.
Unfortunately, in a situation where the Taliban are not satisfied with anything but seizing power, political divisions within the republic are a serious threat. According to Mansoor, the Taliban’s goal is not just to oust one or more people from power, but beyond that to bring about the complete dissolution of the republic in favor of an emirate or similar political system. Hence, the threat of Taliban totalitarianism is a public threat, and standing up to it is the responsibility of all groups and elements affiliated with the republic. All political divisions and disagreements within the republic are a golden opportunity for the Taliban to win the war for power. At such a critical juncture in history, the country’s political elites must not forget the bitter experiences of the past and act in unison to save Afghanistan from catastrophe.
Without a doubt, the forthcoming negotiations will be difficult. The Taliban will use any means to gain power. The war may escalate. The government must gear up to control this war. At the negotiating table, it must appear strong and at the same time not forget the side of caution. Keep the negotiating table warm with flexibility where it is possible. In areas where flexibility is not possible, it must defend its position authoritatively.
The people want a just peace. The government has a duty to take care of the people’s demands at the negotiating table and to protect their lives on the battlefield. This is not possible unless all groups that support the republic act in a unified way. At the same time, the global consensus in support of the Afghan government and people must be strengthened.