Afghanistan turmoil: Peace only through talks

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Afghanistan turmoil: Peace only through talks

Thursday, 29 July 2021 | PK Vasudeva

Afghanistan turmoil: Peace only through talks

The Taliban onslaught appears aimed at forcing the Afghan Government to negotiate on its terms or suffer complete military defeat

A senior delegation of the Afghan government and Taliban representatives has met in Doha for high-stakes negotiations as violence escalates on the ground in Afghanistan.The two sides have been meeting on and off for months in the Qatari capital but the talks have lost momentum as a string of battlefield gains by the armed group has coincided with foreign forces finalising their withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The government delegation is comprised of several high-ranking officials, including former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.

Its reported aim is to support the government’s negotiating team in terms of speeding up the stalled talks. Negotiators from the Taliban’s political office in Doha joined them. The lengthy sessions continued in Doha on July 17 and 18. Earlier, Fraidoon Kwazoon, the Afghan government delegation spokesman, told the media: “The solution to the conflict in Afghanistan lies in negotiations, and peace can be reached through dialogue.” For his part, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said the group has “repeatedly confirmed its readiness for dialogue and negotiations”, adding that the problems can “only be solved by dialogue”.

Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, reporting from the location of the negotiations in Doha, said the latest round of talks was another effort to try and bring the two sides together. “Both sides are saying that dialogue is the only way forward and they believe that a solution for a peaceful Afghanistan can only come from the table - but actions on the ground speak a very different language,” he said.

“There seems to be no headway, no real tangible progress. The Afghan side insists that there needs to be a ceasefire before there could be any real dialogue, and the Taliban insist that they want their version of Sharia, they want a government that is comprehensive and includes all sides of Afghanistan,” he said.

Bin Javaid said special representatives from Europe, the United States, and the United Nations were also present at the talks “to try and see if they can push to achieve some sort of peace in Afghanistan” after months of major disagreements. “There isn’t much hope that there is going to be a concrete solution coming out of this meeting, but at least it is something to go forward with,” he said.

The Taliban has capitalised on the last stages of the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops from Afghanistan to launch a series of lightning offensives across the country.

Afghan forces clashed on July 16 with Taliban fighters in Spin Boldak after launching an operation to retake the key southern border crossing with Pakistan.The route is one of the main trade and travel routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan and is an important source of revenue for the West-backed government in Kabul.

The battle at the southern border follows weeks of intensifying fighting across Afghanistan, with the Taliban pressing multiple offensives and overrunning dozens of districts at a staggering rate.The group has in recent weeks captured border crossings with Iran, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan while also tightening their grip in the north.

Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis, reporting from Kabul, said the armed group now controls more than 50 percent of the country and that their grasp is getting “ever closer" to the capital.

As fighting raged over large swathes of Afghanistan, a war of words was also heating up between Kabul and Islamabad after the Afghan Vice President accused the Pakistani military of providing  “close air support to Taliban in certain areas”. Pakistan strongly denied the claim with a foreign ministry statement saying the country “took necessary measures within its territory to safeguard our own troops and population”.

Afghanistan’s southern border has long been a flashpoint in relations with its eastern neighbour. Foreign troops have been in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years following the US-led invasion launched in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks. They have appeared largely out of the picture in recent months, but fears are growing that Afghan forces will be overwhelmed without the vital air support they provide.

The speed and scale of the Taliban onslaught have caught many by surprise, with analysts saying it appears aimed at forcing the government to negotiate on the group’s terms or suffer complete military defeat.Russia's foreign minister said on July 16 that the US mission in Afghanistan had "failed".

Fifteen diplomatic missions and the NATO representative in Kabul have joined hands to urge the Taliban to halt military offensives across Afghanistan, just hours after a peace meeting in Doha failed to agree on a ceasefire.

A senior delegation of Afghan leaders met the Taliban's political leadership in the Qatari capital but a Taliban statement issued late on July 18 made no mention of a halt to Afghanistan's rising violence.

"This Eid al-Adha, the Taliban should lay down their weapons for good and show the world their commitment to the peace process,” the 15 missions and the NATO representative said, referring to the July 20 holiday in Afghanistan.

The joint statement was supported by Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the European Union delegation, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Britain, the United States, and NATO's senior civilian representative."The Taliban's offensive is in direct contradiction to their claim to support a negotiated settlement," said the joint statement.

“It has resulted in a loss of innocent Afghan lives, including through continued targeted killings, displacement of the civilian population, looting and burning of buildings, destruction of vital infrastructure, and damage to communication networks.” Over the last few Eid holidays, the Taliban has called temporary ceasefires, saying it wanted to let Afghans spend them in peace.This time there has been no such announcement, as the Taliban makes swift territorial gains in near-unprecedented levels of fighting nationwide.

The group has been emboldened as foreign forces near a complete withdrawal after 20 years of fighting, cutting a huge swathe across the country, capturing hundreds of districts, seizing key border crossings, and encircling provincial capitals.

July 19th’s statement by the 15 missions also condemned rights violations, such as efforts to shut schools and media outfits reported by media in areas recently captured by the Taliban, which has previously denied such assertions.

Moscow would welcome India’s active participation in a settlement format for Afghanistan later on after the conflict is resolved, Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan and Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Second Asian Department Zamir Kabulov said during an online discussion of the international Valdai discussion club.The diplomat noted that India couldnot participate in the format of the expanded group of three because it does not have any influence on the Taliban. “The format of the ‘Extended Troika’ with the participation of Russia, the US, China and Pakistan is convened exclusively to facilitate the launch of the intra-Afghan talks leading to national accord. Only countries that have an unequivocal influence on both sides (of the conflict) participate,” the envoy explained.

(The writer is retired Senior Professor, International Trade, and Member, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.)

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