After years of stonewalling regional contentions about the Afghan peace process, Kabul signalled for the first time its willingness to officially recognise the Taliban as a legitimate political entity. Such recognition — long proposed by the well-wishers of Afghanistan — has the potential to produce the kind of breakthrough that has so far eluded the stalemate-hit process. This week’s overture from Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, was preceded by an offer by the Taliban to the United States to engage in meaningful dialogue to end the conflict. It also comes on the heels of reports about back-channel talks between Afghan administration officials and the Taliban which probably laid the groundwork for Ghani’s proposed agenda for peace.
As part of the deal, Ghani is considering ordering a ceasefire and release of prisoners — significant measures on their own. Without elaborating how he intends to involve the militant group’s representatives in both national elections as well as a review of the Afghan charter, Ghani has shared at least his vision with the Taliban. Some of these issues have previously appeared on the group’s wish list. And if anything it is ample proof that Kabul and the Taliban can come closer to understanding each other, albeit through unofficial negotiations. Though these are still probably in the nascent stage, other stakeholders need to encourage and support this engagement. It is in everybody’s interest to facilitate steps towards peace in Afghanistan.
As Ghani has been forthright about his peace-making initiative and not attached any preconditions to it, the Taliban need to tailor their response with a suitable amount of goodwill gestures and pragmatism. Already the Kabul Process — a conference which has drawn representatives from 25 countries — has created heavy expectations in view of Ghani’s readiness to provide incentives to the Taliban. It is now up to the militant group to join in the dialogue and spare the country from endless conflict.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2018.
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