Ground rules

''The US is doing a deal behind Karzai’s back.''

Afghanistan’s High Peace Council has come out with ground rules for talks with the Taliban. It has stated that talks are conditional on the Taliban halting violence against civilians, snapping ties with the al-Qaeda and accepting the Afghan constitution. The ball is now in the Taliban’s court. Whether it will be agreeable for conditional talks remains to be seen.  After all, it does not perceive itself as losing the war. It can in fact be expected to put forward its own conditions. It has been insisting on foreign troops leaving Afghanistan before the start of talks and is likely to make this a condition. There is considerable doubt too whether the Taliban will accept the Afghan constitution, which provides for human rights and equal rights for women. Clearly, the way forward is a minefield. However, this should not weaken president Hamid Karzai resolve in pursuing a negotiated end to the armed conflict.

The High Peace Council has made it clear that foreign involvement in the Afghan peace process is unacceptable. This is a message meant for the US and other Nato powers in particular which are reportedly engaged in clandestine talks with the Taliban. US officials are reported to have engaged in at least half-a-dozen rounds of talks with the Taliban in Germany and Doha and even reached agreement on the Taliban opening an office in Doha, all without involving or informing the Karzai government. Understandably, Kabul is cut up over the clandestine moves. The US must understand that its bypassing of the Karzai government is eroding its authority. This is not the way to take the peace process forward.

The Afghanistan government is not averse to the Taliban opening a political office abroad. In fact, it has clarified that it is comfortable with the insurgents opening an office in Saudi Arabia or Turkey, or even Doha. What it is opposed to is deals being done behind its back. If it was only a political office for the Taliban that the Americans were negotiating with the insurgents, surely they could have kept Karzai in the loop. This raises questions over what was being discussed in the talks between the Americans and the Taliban. The US will need to share information with the Afghan government. Its duplicity is making a complex peace process more complicated.

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