x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Taliban talks may be distasteful, but still essential

The news that the Taliban may establish a liaison office in Doha my bring peace in Afghanistan a step closer

The notion of peace negotiations with the Taliban is not new. Several suggestions, including by the US government over the past year, have been bandied about. In truth, there has been some level of contact between Taliban factions and US and Pakistani officials for years.

But what was lacking was a workable framework that the international community could agree on. Now, with Kabul's acquiesence, there is that framework.

On Monday, Afghanistan's High Peace Council announced that it would accept a Taliban liaison office in Doha (or Turkey or Saudi Arabia) as long as certain ground rules were abided by. Kabul may have feared that the United States, Qatar and Germany had secretly agreed that the Taliban would open a Doha office anyway.

The conditions include that no foreign country could be involved in the process without Kabul's consent, that the Taliban must cut ties with Al Qaeda and Pakistan must be party to any talks. In theory, the Taliban would have to accept the Afghan constitution, which guarantees civil liberties and women's rights.

There are plenty of reasons not to deal with the Taliban, in particular the Quetta Shura led by Mullah Omar. When Kabul was under his control in the 1990s, it was a disaster for Afghanistan particularly in terms of basic human rights. Any return to that era is frightening indeed for women and non-Pashtun minorities.

The murder in September of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president who led reconciliation efforts, also struck a blow against any sort of talks. How do you negotiate when the other party will kill your emissary?

A Taliban office in a foreign country could help solve that problem by providing security. Ten years after the US invasion, it is impossible to pretend that the Taliban will be defeated by the US withdrawal date of 2014.

In the end, the truth is that you negotiate with your enemies, not your friends. There is perhaps slim hope that a more enlightened negotiating will emerge, one who will respect the human-rights provisions of the constitution. But holding out for an ideal solution, 10 years later, is pointless. It is now time for Afghans and their allies to begin working towards a practical solution.