Relations between Kabul and Washington exacerbated over the peace talks held between the United States and the Taliban in March 2019. Afghan national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib showed concerns that the Afghan government was not aware of the progress and the American envoy did not brief them about the details of the negotiation with the Taliban.
The Afghan government and Afghans are fearful and hopeful about the negotiations as it can end the three-decade-long war and bring sustainable peace. On the other hand, if the government and the Taliban fail to reach an agreement, Afghanistan will face another prolong conflict or maybe a civil war.
The major cause of fear is the Geneva Accord of 1988 when the Soviet leader signed a deal to end the war in Afghanistan, as before that the Afghans were divided by the communist and religious lines. The Soviet Union supported the Afghan communist government while the US supported the religious groups that were fighting against the communist government and Soviet forces in Afghanistan. After the accord, the Soviet withdrew its forces without bringing the government and religious groups to the table for talks and left Afghanistan at the mercy of the Mujahideens and regional players.
Consequently, Afghanistan suffered a civil war and conflict that's three decades long. Because of that accord, the country became the center of international terrorist organizations in the 1990s. As terrorism spread in the world, the September 11 incident occurred in America.
Today, there are two differences between the Afghan government and the US that compelled the Afghans to raise objections to the peace process.
First, ignoring the democratically elected government of Afghanistan, and refusing to share the important details about the negotiation with the elected leaders have created a crisis between the relations of Afghanistan and the US. There is also increased confusion among the Afghans about peace. The Afghans had great hope for peace when the dialogue started in July 2018, but after the constant ignoring of the Afghan representative in the negotiation, now they think that there is something secret going behind the closed doors in Doha.
Currently, many in the Afghan government seem to think that the US is going to give an immense space to the Taliban in the system and that is why the US is sidelining the government. They believe the Afghan government is the legitimately elected representative of the Afghans and the continued talks are delegitimizing the Afghan government and increasing the legitimacy of the Taliban.
Though the Taliban contest or control nearly half of Afghanistan, these are remote rural areas with a small population. They control just 10 percent of the population. The Taliban has little democratic power and don’t have any chance to win the Afghan presidential election in September, as most of Afghans are against the Taliban owing to their brutalities and conservative ideology.
In spite of fighting a war for 18 years and losing thousands of its warriors, the Taliban still doesn’t have control on any single provincial capital among the 34 provinces. In this situation, the Taliban is getting benefits from the negotiation, as they know that they can’t win the election or regain the country by war. They are ready to talk just with America in order to gain a major power in the system and a vital role in the upcoming government without taking part in the elections. The Taliban argues that the Americans removed their legitimate government in 2001 and after the withdrawal of US forces, only they deserve to take control of the government in their hands.
If the Taliban gets a huge space in the system and in the interim government through the talks, they will reverse the gains of the past 18 years because they reject the Afghan constitution, army, and other institutions.
Moreover, it doesn’t seem like the Taliban will take part in the election, the reason being that they are against democracy and claim that it is opposed to Islamic and sharia laws. During past elections, they threatened the public not to take part and even killed candidates of the national assembly.
The US announced the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan before the result of the peace talks and now the Taliban claim that they have defeated a superpower. The Taliban believes that America is tired of war and has the intention to quickly withdraw its forces. In the meantime, they are getting advantages out of this situation.
Currently, the US and the Taliban are discussing the withdrawal of forces and minor issues, but the political settlement issue will be discussed after they make a consensus on the withdrawal and ceasefire. The Taliban may demand the full control of Afghanistan’s government or some key ministries as well as control of few eastern and southern strategic provinces in the next decisive discussions.
On the other side, the Afghan government is ready to review the constitution on the request of the Taliban, accept only the constitutional demands and recognizing them as a legitimate political party. It is not ready to give them space in the government and says only the Afghans have the right to vote and choose their representative. It desires a peace that would guarantee the rights and liberties of the people and deter the reversal of the gains of the past 18 years.
Second, the Afghan government’s concerns has increased after the US demands the Taliban to guarantee that Afghanistan will never be used against them and other countries. For Afghans, Taliban taking guarantees on behalf of Afghanistan in a time when there is an elected government is against diplomatic principles.
Kabul is worried on which basis the US has demanded the guarantee of future Afghanistan from the Taliban? Can they give a guarantee on all of Afghanistan? The majority of Afghans think this issue must be done by the government.
Negotiation on all of Afghanistan with the Taliban has diminished the trust of the government and the public on the talks. For them, the Taliban is a small fraction, the US should talk with them as a group, not as a government because they are not the representative of Afghanistan.
It is a fact that peace is a priority of the government, but it will support only those US peace process that can pave the way to Intra-Afghan talks and prevent future perils. Most Afghans have seen the troubles of the civil war, in which they lost all state institutions, their homes and cities were demolished and millions were compelled to leave the country. Though there are many issues with the current government, it is better than a government of the Taliban or another civil war.
The talks without the government will certainly lead to another war between the political parties, warlords and the Taliban. If the Taliban gets a huge space in the system and in the interim government through the talks, they will reverse the gains of the past 18 years because they reject the Afghan constitution, army, and other institutions.
The Taliban has the skills of warfare; they don’t have the economists, sociologists, political scientists and experts of other fields to run the system. Hence, Afghanistan will once again lose its institutions just like in 1992, or might face collapse if the Taliban obtain power, but these are not what the Afghans and the government want.