Elusive peace

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The latest round of talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban in Qatar should give the people in the region, Afghans in particular, a renewed hope – for there is not much else to do.

Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan some 40 years ago, peace has evaded this region. After the Soviet dismemberment, the US made hasty withdrawal leaving all the mess behind for the locals to deal with. And unsurprisingly they made a bigger mess out of the US- bequeathed mess. A decade later, the US made a ‘boots on ground’ decision.  And now after 17-year- war, it is finally realising that it is going nowhere. The irony of the situation is that after spending trillions of dollars and sacrificing dozens of soldiers, not to speak of the devastation locally, the Taliban the very force they had started the war to eliminate, are the ones they are forced to negotiate with. That is past though but sadly not behind us.

The negotiations that were on for a while now, were impacted by the recent Pak-India stand-off. Now that there is a relative thaw thankfully, the process has picked up momentum again.

The recent round of talks between the US and the Taliban ended the Tuesday night in Qatar, with both sides claiming progress. Both the parties agreed on a withdrawal timeline and effective counterterrorism measures. The same two points are the sticking points according to a news agency report. The Taliban wants the US forces to withdraw in the next two to six months whereas the US thinks two years should be a safe bet to make an exit. On the counter-terrorism measures, the US’s only concern is whether the Afghan territory is free of any hostile elements such as IS that might target the US again. The Taliban reportedly are tentative on this point.

The Taliban in their statement while agreeing that some progress was made said there is no cease-fire deal as yet.

Both the parties now need time to share and discuss the progress made thus far within themselves as well as with other stakeholders. Of all, the US has to take on board the Afghan government – an important stakeholder that is not directly involved in the negotiations.

Pakistan, to its credit, has helped push the peace talks by bringing the Taliban to the talks. This help is recognised and reciprocated by Washington. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas who was in Islamabad on Tuesday also appreciated Pakistan’s role in the process.

Fingers crossed as the stakeholders wrap their heads around what transpired during the two-week talks in Doha.