Surreptitious move

What seemed like a window of opportunity to find a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict is fast becoming another effort at deal making.

Talks with the Taliban were due to start this week in Qatar. However, it was not the Afghan government-appointed High Peace Council that was to negotiate with the Taliban but American officials.  As if this wasn’t bad enough, it appears that the US was not keeping the Afghan government in the loop, even offering the Taliban sweeteners without Kabul’s consent. In a pre-talks deal Washington appears to have allowed the Taliban to not only set up a political office in Qatar but also to fly its own flag, one that carried the insurgent group’s state name, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In doing so, the US was conferring on the Taliban a degree of political recognition. Not surprisingly, this has set off alarm bells ringing in Kabul other regional capitals. It prompted Afghan president Hamid Karzai to announce his withdrawal of support to the talks process. While the US has since got the Taliban to take down its flag from its office in Qatar, the Afghan government remains understandably suspicious.

The fracas has forced the US to put the talks on hold. A peace process with promise has thus hit turbulence even before it could take off.

Lasting peace requires an inclusive and transparent process. These conditions have been violated by Washington, which is talking to the Taliban over Kabul’s head. Its surreptitious approach suggests that it is seeking to seal a deal with the insurgents that will protect American interests in Afghanistan, rather than pave the way for a lasting peace.
American officials have clarified that Kabul will be kept informed about US’ talks with the Taliban and that the talks will be handed over to the Afghan government in due course. However, by taking charge of the talks, even if only at a preliminary stage, the US is violating the ‘red lines’ established by the international community. The latter had agreed that the peace process in Afghanistan must be an Afghan-owned and driven project. The Afghan government must be at the talks table. At the least, it must be consulted and its consent secured. The US must understand that its habit of riding rough shod on sovereign governments will prove disastrous in Afghanistan.     

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