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Intra-Afghan talks: Long and complicated, with no guarantee of success

Until it happened, few believed that it could actually could take off.

It took months to get the Taliban and Afghanistan government into one room for direct face-to-face negotiations. Six months after the US-Taliban deal in February, the Islamic militant group entered into talks with the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar. Holding a meeting with the Afghan government was one of the conditions of the deal.

The first scheduled meeting was on Monday but it was delayed due to “thorny issues” like the talk’s agenda and terms, say sources. Both the Afghan and the Taliban “contact group” have to decide on an agenda, the code of conduct and a due date for the first round of the intra-Afghan talks. While sources suggested the groups have held two meeting – one Sunday evening and other on Monday morning, Afghan negotiator Habiba Sarabi said only one meeting was held, adding “we should not expect decisions on everything in a short time.”

“The agenda comes later. First, we should decide on the principles of the negotiations,” said Matin Bek, a negotiator from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as quoted by Afghan TV News <em>TOLO news</em>. “Other topics might take time, but we have made good progress jointly.”

After the inauguration ceremony , the Taliban leaders were surrounded by the media.

"The international community shouldn't be nervous," the deputy leader of the Taliban's negotiating team Abbas Stanikzai insisted. He said that in return for being treated as a legitimate political entity in Afghanistan, "we will be nice this time, more responsible in respect to international law."

<img class="wp-image-13442 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/4dbb91c55f66de8e6b4e9d7c63b42fda.jpg" alt="" width="960" height="640" /> Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan leader who leads the High Council for National Reconciliation at the Kabul Airport (Xinhua/IANS)

The Taliban team is also sending 'messages' through 'off-record' meetings with the international media. One Taliban negotiator told a <em>CBS News</em> reporter, that the present puppet Afghanistan government is corrupt and incompetent, therefore, sharing power with the “sinking ship” Ghani government will would “drown the Taliban” as well.

"Now it's the Taliban's turn," he said. "Hand over the Afghan regime to the Taliban for three to five years. The Taliban will work with the international community, especially the US. We will prove that as the Taliban was a hard enemy, in the future we will be a solid and trustworthy partner."

The Taliban thinks that it has an upper hand in the talks since they control a large part of Afghanistan. Even the Ghani government appears to have acknowledged, by sitting down for talks with the militant group, that the insurgents are too powerful to ignore.

"The Taliban are a reality on the ground in Afghanistan. Only the Taliban can end this war and bring stability to Afghanistan," the first negotiating team's member told the international media. Whatever the Taliban says, its clear that it wants to come back to the mainstream.

Both sides have different expectations. For the Taliban, the hope is that a deal will grant them a large degree of power within a political system that may be significantly different than the current one. Experts say the intra-Afghan talks will be a lengthy, complicated affair, and there will be a lot of impediments to overcome for both sides.

"There will be many delicate and complex issues—from the nature and scope of a power-sharing deal to the issue of women's rights and reintegration of former Taliban fighters into the Afghan society—that are likely to take years, not months, to negotiate," says Madiha Afzal, a visiting professor at Kabul University.

The world is watching.

There are many stakeholders including India who have been trying to help Afghanistan become a peaceful and stable country, not the nerve center of terrorism. The US has described India as a major actor in the region with an important role in ensuring Afghanistan’s peace and development. It wants India to continue playing a constructive role in bringing peace internally.

Joining the intra-Afghan ceremony in Doha, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar supported an “immediate ceasefire" in Afghanistan and underlined that the land of the country should not be used for anti-India activities.

He said that the peace process must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled, it should respect national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, promote human rights and democracy, ensure interest of minorities, women and the vulnerable and also effectively address violence across the country.

After much 'reluctance' to engage with the Taliban, India finally agreed to talk to both the parties. One senior official told <em>Hindustan Times</em>, “There is no ambiguity on the Indian position vis-à-vis engagement with Afghan parties as the Indian delegation sat on the same table as the Afghan government as well as the Taliban. The host nation Qatar could have made this possible after talking to all principal stake-holders in the Afghan dialogue. ”

However, while the intra-Afghan talks might raise the prospects for peace, many Afghans – especially women and girls – know just how much is at stake, and they are worried..