The fourth quadrilateral meeting was convened in Kabul. According to the joint press release of this meeting, the face-to-face talks with the Taliban will commence in the first week of March in Islamabad.
Prior to this, in the third meeting, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) had decided to start direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban at the end of February; however, it is not yet clear why these talks have not started while the month is almost ended.
Recent decisions about direct talks come at a time when the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif talked about the Afghan peace process with senior Qatari officials during his one day visit to Qatar which took place two days before the fourth quadrilateral talks.
The background and importance of direct talks with the Taliban, and the possibility of holding these talks in March are the issues that will be analyzed here.
Significance of direct talks in the Afghan peace process
Whether there were conflicts between foreigners and the internal parties, or internal forces that were involved in armed conflict with each other; the conflicts were being resolved through face to face talks almost in every country; thus, one can conclude that only direct talks would put an end to conflicts. For instance, the “Paris Peace Agreement” which was made between the governments of the Northern Vietnam and Southern Vietnam, the U.S and Provisional Revolutionary Government of Vietnam brought the “Vietnam War” to an end.
It goes the same way in Afghanistan, the entire peace efforts that have not contained direct talks were either fruitless or had negative consequences. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Geneva Conference was convened, but due to the lack of direct talks with the real sides of the war, it had unwanted outcomes and became one of the factors behind the “Afghan Civil War”.
The direct talks will also make the country to get even closer to security, peace and prosperity. However, it is important that these talks should take place with the real parties of the war and it should not be due to the pressure.
The background of direct peace talks
The face to face talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban first happened during Hamid Karzai era and were mostly carried out with the Taliban individually; Mullah Baradar, Mullah Motasim Agha Jan and some other Taliban were among them.
The Muree talks were held in Islamabad between the Afghan government and the representatives of the Taliban that were really representing them and were ready to set around the negotiation table with the Afghan government. The talks were held after the Afghan government’s outreach to Pakistan for its peace process and when Pakistan was under pressure due to the promise of Raheel Sharif about bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table in March 2015. Therefore, the way was paved for the Murree talks to be commenced in June 2015, but it came to a halt after the disclosure of the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar.
After the Murree talks came to a halt and the regional and international efforts for Afghan peace process began, Quadrilateral peace talks commenced in December 2015, and its fourth meeting was recently held in Kabul. In the first and second meeting of this series the four countries decided about the procedure of the quadrilateral meetings and in the third meeting they discussed over the “road map” for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and in its fourth meeting they determined to commence direct talks with the Taliban in the first week of March in Islamabad.
Obstacles toward direct talks
Considering the realities on the ground, the obstacles to face to face talks with the Taliban through the quadrilateral meetings are as follows:
- At the start of the quadrilateral meetings, all the efforts were focused on the Taliban to be brought to the negotiation table by Pakistan rather than gaining the confidence the Taliban which is the main opposition party of the ongoing Afghan war. Therefore, the Taliban does not trust these talks and is suspicious about its intentions.
- Unrecognition of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar paves the way for the failure of the face to face talks; because the Taliban believes that their Qatar Office is the only address to carry out the talks and this has been proven in the past that the decisions made by the Qatar Office were acceptable for the Taliban.
- On one hand, not removing the bans to which the Taliban influential leaders are subject can also be an obstacle towards the talks because if the influential Taliban leaders did not participate in the talks, then the talks would be mostly failed. On the other hand, releasing the prisoners and fulfilling some other conditions can build trust between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Will direct talks begin?
After the fourth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, the Afghan Taliban’s political office in Qatar declared that they were neither informed about quadrilateral meetings and direct talks, nor were they contacted in this regard.
If one study the Taliban’s diplomacy in the past years, one will find that declaring difficult positions the Taliban either are not prepared for the talks or they wanted to talk directly, as in the cases of releasing the Russian pilot and the American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl.
Whether direct talks with the Taliban will commence within two weeks, is a significant question. Because in the past when Pakistan made solid promise to pave the way for face to face talks with the Taliban, it happened after long delay and with a lot of difficulties and only once in the past one and a half year.
The face to face talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in March is not a challenging task; but the question is who will represent the Afghan Taliban in these talks? If the representative of the Taliban’s Qatar office or the members of the Taliban’s leading council did not participate the talks, it will once again fail.