Taliban must return to negotiating table

The two-day meeting of NATO Defense Ministers did not decide on the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan. The final decision is expected to be made after a series of consultations between members of the organization and a closer look at the situation in Afghanistan. However, the NATO Secretary-General said that the withdrawal of NATO troops or the extension of their mission would depend on the situation in Afghanistan and how the political negotiations in the country are progressing. The organization expects both the government and the Taliban to enter into meaningful negotiations by reducing violence.

The Taliban have long since left the negotiating table. The talks had previously stalled due to the group’s preconditions, as part of which the Taliban had asked for 7,000 the group’s prisoners to be released and all international sanctions against them to be lifted in order for the talks to continue. Later, they included the removal of Ghani from power as a condition for agreeing on a future political order. So far, these conditions of the Taliban have not been implemented. As a result, the group has left the negotiating table without an official announcement to this effect.

The peace talks saw no reduction in violence, right from the beginning. While they were going on in Doha, there was intense fighting in the country. The level of violence has been reported to be high in recent months. In addition to face-to-face battles, assassinations and explosions, there have been other forms of violence during this period.

The consequences of the Taliban resorting to arms and the dramatic increase in violence during the peace process have been very negative. The Taliban’s conditions for continuing negotiations under the Doha agreement have not been met by the group due to this escalation of violence. In addition, the Taliban’s insistence on these terms – without fulfilling its commitment to reduce violence and sever ties with terrorist groups – has brought a halt to the peace talks. These facts have also cast doubt on the US and NATO’s plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in May.

Neither the Afghan government nor its allies, but solely the Taliban are responsible for this confusing and chaotic situation. If the group had fulfilled its commitments and entered into meaningful negotiations with the government, the peace process would have been successful. Unfortunately, after about six months since the start of the intra-Afghan talks, no effective step has been taken towards the success of the peace process. What came to be called negotiation during this period was nothing more than a handful of ineffective and irrelevant debates.

The United States and NATO are still seeking to give the Taliban a chance to return to the group’s commitments in the Doha Agreement. For this reason, they have not yet made up their minds about leaving Afghanistan or staying in the country. They are waiting to see what new message they will receive from the Taliban and how the situation in Afghanistan will change. If the Taliban do not reduce the level of violence, cut ties with terrorist groups and enter into meaningful negotiations with the government, there is no doubt that the withdrawal plan will not be implemented. The United States and NATO have made it clear that the basis for their decision to leave or stay is the ground reality in Afghanistan. If the reality of Afghanistan is the same in the coming weeks and months, the decision to withdraw will no longer be part of US and NATO plans. In this case, a repressive option would be on the agenda to bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table.

It is in the Taliban’s interest to seize the opportunity before it and enter into meaningful negotiations with the government in compliance with the Doha Agreement. For NATO and the United States, maintaining troops or sending new troops to Afghanistan is as simple as sending troops to Iraq. The purpose of sending these forces there was to fight ISIS. The United States and NATO can make a similar decision for Afghanistan if they are convinced that the Taliban have no intention of making peace with the government and that its ties to terrorist groups remain stable and that this situation threatens their interests and security. This could take the war in Afghanistan to a new level and delay peace and stability, which has been one of the most important demands of the people, for a long time to come. If the Taliban are sincere about peace with the government, they should appreciate this opportunity; otherwise, they will face the razor of resistance and repression.