Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 November 2019

Afghans voice relief after US calls off peace talks with Taliban

Exclusion of other parties had raised fears about the future if the peace deal went through

US President Donald Trump's decision to suspend peace talks with the Taliban was met with relief by many Afghans, who questioned the absence of other interested parties including the government.

“These talks were based on American and Taliban interests and Afghans were only the audience,” said Mohammad Ilyas, a political activist from the eastern city of Jalalabad.

“An existing elected government was marginalised and they wanted to decide the fate of whole nation. We believed that these discussions wouldn’t have a favourable outcome.”

The top US negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, had said that a deal had been “imminent” and was only awaiting Mr Trump's approval.

But the US president announced on Saturday that he was suspending the months-long peace effort over a Taliban bombing in Kabul two days earlier that killed a US soldier and 11 other people.

US officials have suggested that the talks could resume later, bringing hopes that the pause will allow the inclusion of excluded Afghan parties.

“The lull in the peace talks will give Afghan women the opportunity to further strengthen their position and regroup so that they can take a stronger part of the negotiations between the US and the Taliban,” said Zuhra Bahman, a women’s rights activist in Kabul.

For women, reintegration of the Taliban into mainstream politics raised fears for the fundamental rights they had established in the 18 years since the militants were toppled by a US-led invasion.

A market in the Old City of Kabul. Afghan civilians have suffered from increasing attacks by the Taliban despite the insurgents hold peace talks with the US. AP Photo
A market in the Old City of Kabul. Afghan civilians have suffered from increasing attacks by the Taliban despite the insurgents hold peace talks with the US. AP Photo

Ms Bahman said the peace talks could not be restricted to the US and the Taliban, and women would continue to play an active role in building peace within the community.

“To me, the peace process in Afghanistan is still ongoing," she said. "Real peace negotiations happen at the community level, where individuals and small groups are enticed to leave a life of violence."

Ms Bahman commended the Afghan government for supporting the talks, despite the Taliban’s rejection of the government as an American puppet.

“It shows the strength of the Afghan democracy,” she said.

Mr Ilyas also expressed hope that the next phase of talks would include all Afghans.

“We believe in dialogue but in dialogue all the stakeholders must be involved," he said.

"The Taliban have carried on the war against civilians and Afghan government."

A soldier, 28, from a western province, said while he was disappointed with the decision to call off the peace process, he did not have much faith in it because it was not transparent to Afghans.

“I was watching Mr Khalilzad's interview on Tolo News and he didn't share all the details of the deal with Afghan people," the soldier said.

"It hurts to see the Americans make decisions that impact our country and people."

The Taliban said that they were taken by surprise by the decision to suspend talks that they had deemed “fruitful” thus far.

“The American delegation was happy from the outcome of the talks until yesterday," a spokesman said on Sunday.

"Both sides were preparing for the announcement and the signing of the agreement.

“Now, as the President of the US has announced suspension of negotiations, this will harm America more than anyone else."

The Taliban called the move “anti-peace” and threatened to continue their war, which has been America's longest.

The Taliban had already stepped up attacks in major provinces and districts in the north, including Kunduz and Baghlan, as part of a strategy to increase their influence in the talks.

A senior security official told The National that there was concern about an increase in violence, particularly against the presidential election this month.

But the government is determined not to hold talks with the Taliban, which was to be the next stage of the US-Taliban peace deal, without a ceasefire.

“Reduction of violence and ceasefire are a must to pave the way to intra-Afghan talks," the official said. “If they don’t accept both of these, we will continue military pressure.”

The soldier agreed: “It matters to the US when one soldier is killed, but tens of Afghan soldiers and civilians are dying every day.

"Aren't we humans? The world must know that we are also human and want to live as humans."

Updated: September 10, 2019 10:40 AM

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