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US-Taliban dialogue: finally a positive sign for regional peace


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U.S special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held talks with the Taliban representatives in Qatar which the State Department, yet another time, refused to confirm or deny, a Taliban official confirmed on Sunday. The talks spanned over three days giving the impression of a deliberate and detailed attempt to address the areas which need focus.

According to an anonymous source, Khairullah Khairkhwah, the former Taliban governor of Herat, and Mohammed Fazl, a former Taliban military chief, represented the Taliban and presented the demands in the political office which the group holds in Qatar. Both the individuals were released from the Guantanamo Bay in the swap deal in exchange of captured U.S military sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

So far the stalemate in the long initiated process has been the reluctance of the Taliban to accept any authority other than the United States in Afghanistan.

Taliban had straight out rejected the ceasefire demand of the United States also citing the 6 months’ time period– which Zalmay Khalilzad wants to reach to an agreement to on behest of the U.S government– too short for a substantial settlement. The Afghan government has been critical of the group holding a political office in Qatar, which has been designated as the “government in exile” by the Taliban.

A Breakthrough in the Process?

Though the militant group is demanding a postponement of the next years’ presidential elections in Afghanistan, which as per the U.S plans to democratize the country after investing billions of dollars over the years is a backward step, but Taliban apparently have agreed to an interim neutral set up.

But it might just be precisely what the United States itself has been wanting for a long time, the involvement of Afghan political set up in deciding the future of the country. Taliban have called for an interim set up under the neutral leadership and even named Abdul Sattar Sirat as the viable option to lead the interim government, which in itself is another major development.

Read more: The War in Afghanistan: Curtains without Climax

Who is Abdul Sattar Sirat?

Prof. Abdul Sattar Sirat, a graduate from Colombia University and a professor at Al-Qura University Makka, has been on the political landscape of Afghanistan for as long as anyone can remember. He has served as the Minister of Justice under King Zahir Shah until he was removed in 1973 and then he even won more votes than Karzai for the setup of the interim government in Afghanistan after U.S invasion.

The talks spanned over three days giving the impression of a deliberate and detailed attempt to address the areas which need focus.

But due to his Tajik ethnicity, he was asked to step aside for Hamid Karzai, an indigenous Pashtun. His ethnicity is precisely what makes his nomination on part of Taliban as a positive attitude shift of the militant group toward the long-term prospects of Afghan peace. Taliban, the predominantly Pashtun fighters were negated and even confronted by rest of the ethnic identities of Afghanistan under Northern Alliance.

Ahmed Shah Massoud the leader and also the founder of the alliance, who was eventually killed in a suicide attack on September 09, 2011 had a Tajik origin as well. The move could well possibly be a hint at more inclusive approach coming from Taliban who is often criticized for the subjugation of other ethnic minorities during their rule.

Possible Impact of Mullah Baradar?

The recent release of an influential Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar from Pakistani custody was interpreted as the move on the direction of the United States to use all hands on board to facilitate the peace process. But it believed at the same time that the fighting cadre of the guerrilla group has undergone a dynamic change in the mindset with the influx of young fighters and subsequent leadership change.

Read more: Is US-Taliban dialogue a possibility?

Therefore, the influence of the Mullah Baradar might not play a crucial role as the U.S expects. But the recent marathon dialogue between Taliban representatives and the U.S special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has hinted at the number of new avenues being discussed, something which was stalled during the time Alice Wells was spearheading the dialogue process. It could well be a reason why Mullah Baradar was released or maybe he is yet to play the defined role, which remains to be seen.

So far the stalemate in the long initiated process has been the reluctance of the Taliban to accept any authority other than the United States in Afghanistan. But apparently, both sides are moving to a considerably grey territory which is a positive sign for the region and for Afghanistan in particular.

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