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Afghanistan Talks

Another Setback For Dialogue Process As Afghan Taliban Cancel Peace Talks With US Officials In Qatar

Surya Gangadharan New Delhi 8 January 2019

The Afghan Taliban called off peace talks with US officials which were scheduled to begin in Qatar on Wednesday. The move comes two days after a similar effort by Saudi Arabia collapsed when it sought to ensure an Afghan government presence at the dialogue table.

The Taliban fiercely defends its claim to be the sole representative of the Afghan people even at the cost of Afghan lives.  In the first week of the New Year, 48 policemen and civilians have died in Taliban attacks all over the country. This underscores the view among some of Afghanistan’s neighbours that Taliban domination is no recipe for peace and stability in Afghanistan.  Rather, a Taliban dominated Afghanistan would be a security nightmare to countries like Iran and India and as reports from Tehran have suggested, ‘an existential threat to Pakistan’.

Iranian diplomats say they have conveyed these sentiments to Pakistan, hinting that even the Pakistanis agree.  Apparently, such concerns were conveyed to the late Benazir Bhutto when she and her uncle Naseerullah Babar were putting together the Taliban in the 1990s.  Clearly, they were not deterred.

Today the Taliban control large parts of rural Afghanistan, which makes them a formidable military player, as diplomats in some regional capitals acknowledge, but not the dominant one.  In fact, the sense is the Taliban is a minority, it cannot win votes in any election given the levels of violence it has inflicted on the Afghan people.

A view from Tehran also holds that concern over the Taliban could even bring together India, Pakistan and Iran.  Concern about the Taliban has already compelled Iran to begin a dialogue with them at the foreign ministry level.  The first round was held only last week. Of course, they had ties even earlier as the Taliban controlled an area adjacent to the Iranian border.  It has also been hinted that Iran could open the doors to the Taliban if India so required.

All that however remains to be seen.  Right now all eyes are wondering as to what will be the next step forward after the Afghan Taliban’s refusal to hold talks in Qatar.  Earlier, the fact that Qatar had been chosen as a venue for talks was seen as a big move forward. This was because Qatar was not among those countries that recognised the Taliban emirate in 1996 (that original sin was Pakistan’s, the UAE and Saudi Arabia).  Qatar is considered close to Iran and has been sanctioned by the Saudis for that reason. But when the Saudis joined the US in sanctioning nine individuals (with ties to Iran) for backing the Taliban, it may have reinforced the view in the Taliban shura that Qatar was an independent player, the very reason which persuaded them to open a political office in Doha in 2013.

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