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Direct talks between US and Taliban would undermine democracy in Afghanistan and signal defeat

Direct talks between US and Taliban would undermine democracy in Afghanistan and signal defeat

So, the United States appears to have taken the bait. The U.S. administration is now contemplating direct talks with the Taliban, something the insurgents have been seeking for some time. There’s no denying the fact the stalemate in Afghanistan can only meaningfully be overcome through peace talks. But, here’s the catch: Who initiates the talks with whom could actually change the dynamics of the perpetual war.

The Taliban only needs to avoid losing in order to remain intact, whereas the U.S. forces need to win every time, all the time. That’s why -- despite having scored several tactical level victories in Afghanistan -- a strategic level victory has always eluded the United States. That’s why the idea to have direct talks with the Taliban is only going to make the situation murkier.

Political authority

With parliamentary elections in Afghanistan scheduled for October 20, it is time to strengthen the democratic process there. A smooth transition of the political process is a dire necessity. However, the latest move by the U.S. administration to engage the Taliban in direct talks, seemingly, gives an impression that the government in Kabul doesn’t have sufficient political power and authority.

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The government controls, and has influence over, only 229 out of 407 districts in Afghanistan; however, that accounts for 65 percent of the population. The Taliban controls about 12 percent of the population and is contesting areas in which the remaining 23 percent reside. The fact of the matter is that the Kabul government is a democratically elected government, and it should be the sole seat of power and authority.

 

By engaging the Taliban in direct talks, the U.S. administration is doing no good for the continuation of electoral process in Afghanistan. If there’s a perception that the elected government isn’t capable of pulling it off, then the political process could get undermined. Remember, it’s the confidence of the people in the electoral system that counts, and by engaging the Taliban in talks directly with the U.S. administration instead of the Kabul government, the message will be heard loud and clear by voters in Afghanistan. And it won’t sound sweet for anyone wishing for a smooth democratic transition.

Tactical maneuvering

With parliamentary elections just around the corner, the Taliban would dearly like to have a fair chunk of the government, and for that, political concessions are what they appear to be going for. The more the U.S. administration and the Kabul government concede, the more the Taliban are likely to push forward. With direct talks with the U.S. administration, it’s likely the Taliban will demand a larger role in the next government. The United States would be best leaving such political wrangling to the local players, with the outcome to be decided by voters on October 20.

Afghanistan desperately needs peace, but the U.S. administration shouldn’t concede political space to the Taliban, because it cannot do so without both rewarding the use of terror strikes and undermining the democratic process.  

What’s more, The U.S. asking the Taliban to peace talks without first curbing their offensive abilities could appear like accepting defeat after 17 years – is that a message the U.S. really wants to broadcast?

The idea of peace talks is great. However, the Afghanistan government needs to negotiate directly with the Taliban, and not until their striking abilities are brought to a halt.

Shazar Shafqat is a counterterrorism and security analyst for the Middle East Eye, Middle East Monitor and others. His research focuses on South Asian security, Middle East politics and security issues, counterterrorism strategies, and military-related affairs. His commentary has been published by World Policy Journal, Asia Times and RealClearDefense, among others.