Peace talks signal uncertainty ahead

Aanchal Clare

October 7 2001 marked the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, better known as The Afghanistan War. Military retaliation for the 9/11 attacks proceeded after several unsuccessful weeks of diplomatic effort to have Osama Bin Laden handed over by the Taliban. Consequently, military strikes againstAfghanistanwere launched by an international coalition led by theUnited Statesand supported byGreat Britain,Canada,Australia,GermanyandFrance.

Twelve years on andAfghanistanis a country marred by violence and bloodshed. Since the start of the American ‘surge’, the figures for military and civilian casualties lie well into the hundreds of thousands. There exists still a franchise for international terror that aims to inspire for decades to come. The assassination of Osama bin Laden has failed to weaken the vigour of al-Qaeda and signal an end to the jihad.

Despite this, theUShave called time on their occupancy inAfghanistan. The ever-present dominant Western role in theAfghanistanwar has finally been given an expiry date. American troops are due to exit the country at the end of 2014, moving to the backseat to play a supporting role inAfghanistan’s fight for democracy. The first step in this transition: NATO officially handing over the country’s military security to the Afghan government on June 18.

Yet it is evident that The Obama Administration needs to first facilitate peace talks so it can ultimately reduce its commitment beyond 2014. The Taliban’s co-operation since the beginning of these new peace talks should not be misread. The group has no reason to negotiate seriously if they are under the impression they can retake parts of the country after theUSleaves. In terms of US participation, the best chance to reach peace will involve giving the Afghan security forces all the logistical support they need so the Taliban accept they can’t win.

Hope of Afghan peace talks arose on June 18, when the Taliban opened a political office inDoha,Qatar. American officials pronounced the likelihood of new peace talks with the Taliban, but almost immediatelyAfghanistanPresident Karzai threw a spanner in the works. He was incensed by the Taliban’s use of embassy-like trimmings on theDohaoffice, such as a Taliban flag and a plaque on the front of the compound declaring it the office of the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ – which is what they called their old government that ruled the nation before being overthrown in 2001. Karzai consequently chose not to send a delegation toDoha.

TheDohaoffice had been deliberated over for more than a year and Afghan officials had long feared that the Taliban would use it to fortify their public standing and to help with fundraising. An Afghan government spokesperson has said that it was unacceptable for the Taliban to use theDohaoffice for anything more than initial peace negotiations, and there could be no talks with the Afghan government until all Taliban flags and plaques were removed.

The Taliban have certainly played their cards cunningly during these talks. Their office is in a diplomatic quarter ofDoha, just across the street from a neighbourhood that’s home to a host of embassies presenting their national flags. From their choice of name for the Doha office to the statements they have made about using it to connect with other countries, the Taliban have made it seem that they are more interested in gaining mainstream legitimacy than negotiating an end to the country’s fighting.

Of course any negotiation with a terrorist group brings practical and moral problems. Within hours of agreeing to peace talks, the Taliban took credit for an attack on Bagram Air Base that killed fourUSsoldiers. However the grim reality is that the Taliban hold a strong bargaining position and are crucial to the Afghan peace process. With all of these events taking place only 24 hours after initial proclamations of a peace talk, is the whole process of bringing peace toAfghanistandoomed from the very start?

After 12 long years of war, theUShopes to help achieve a strong and independent Afghan government that is able to peacefully rule the country, safe from insurgent violence. Yet with so much mistrust and antagonism, and many people determined to make sure that this peaceful project does not succeed, it is difficult to imagine what can pull the country back together again.

The Taliban leaders dubiously expect to forge a political and peaceful solution to the war inAfghanistanwhile being persistent with military operations against their opponents. The Taliban have stated they want good relations with all the countries of the world, but also continue to insist that they have the right to carry out ‘military and political actions’ in order to end the occupation ofAfghanistan. What is for sure, it will be tough for all parties involved to earn the trust of the people across the bargaining table when violent attacks continue to ensue.