“The Taliban have occupied the space in the peace dialogue, which should be legitimately that of the state or the government,” says India’s ex-Ambassador to Kabul Vivek Katju after the end of the seventh round of talks between the U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leaders led by one of the founders and second-in-command Mullah Baradar in Doha, Qatar.
During those talks, Ambassador Khalilzad tweeted: “The last 6 days of talks have been the most productive session to date. We made substantive progress on ALL 4 parts of a peace agreement: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, participation in intra-Afghan dialogue & negotiations, and permanent & comprehensive ceasefire.”
The talks were paused while an intra-Afghan meeting took place in Doha on the Taliban’s terms. Important Afghan government functionaries including Nader Nadery, a senior advisor to President Ashraf Ghani, and Matin Bek, an ex-Afghan spy agency, NDS (National Directorate of Security) official were among those present. But they were there on the Taliban’s insistence only in personal capacity and not representing the government.
There was confusion on the seeming differences in the English, Dari and Pashtu versions of the declarations from the intra-Afghan conference on upholding women’s rights and the withdrawal of foreign troops.
Talking about the change since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, Ambassador Katju told SNI Associate Editor Amitabh P Revi: “Afghanistan has evolved since the Taliban ruled.” He went on to add: “I think (President Donald) Trump has decided to withdraw. In August 2017, announcing his South Asia policy, he had denounced Pakistan. All that has proved hollow. It shows the Americans are desperate. They’ve suffered a strategic defeat. It’s not an exaggeration that the terms of ‘surrender’ are being negotiated.”
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and other U.S. officials have said they hope a basic peace deal is reached by September 1, before the twice postponed Afghan Presidential polls are scheduled to be held on September 28. But the Taliban refuses to accept the Afghan government as a legitimate negotiator or any elections to be held while foreign forces still remain.
Ambassador Katju is adamant the Taliban hasn’t changed, saying “It’s one thing if it was about modifying the Afghan republic and constitution and injecting certain new features but I don’t think the Taliban are in any mood for that.”
On the ground, though the killings on both sides show no respite. Afghan security forces continue air-raids and other attacks that have killed Taliban commanders in Operation Khaled. The Taliban annual Spring offensive Operation Al-Fath (victory) is also killing security forces and civilians, including women and children. This after a joint statement following intra-Afghan talks pledged to “minimise civilian casualties to zero” and guarantee the “security of public institutions such as schools, religious centres, mosques and hospitals”.