By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – The invigorated yet delicate peace talks in Afghanistan face a gridlock as the warring parties fail to pick between cease-fire and a reduction in violence as the way forward.
Sources privy to the developments told Anadolu Agency the Taliban are only inclined toward "reduction in violence" with little or no explanation of what would this amount to.
The Afghan government, however, stands firm on the demand for an all-out ceasefire ahead of the resumption of a formal peace parley.
– Moving from formal parleys to private dialogue
Washington’s top man for these talks, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, met in private with Taliban’s deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in the Qatari capital Doha last week. This was the first time they met since formal talks between them were suspended following a Taliban attack on the biggest American base, Bagram airfield in the war-ravaged country in December.
“I underscore once again that a meeting between Ambassador Khalilzad and Taliban does not mean the talks have resumed, but it would be just to listen to them [Taliban] what they have to say after internal consultations with their leadership in Pakistan,” a western diplomat in Kabul told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.
In September 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump cancelled a proposed peace deal with the insurgents last minute over the killing of a U.S. soldier in the Afghan capital Kabul. As per non-classified figures by the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, at least 20 U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in 2019.
Prior to this, Khalilzad had almost clinched a deal — disliked by the Kabul government — with the insurgents after a marathon nine-month round of talks in Qatar.
The latest casualty for the Americans came on Jan. 11 when at least two U.S. service members were killed and two others wounded when their military convoy vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in the restive southern Kandahar province.
“The Taliban continue to resist stopping the violence, before they secure an outcome from negotiations, which is their return to power. They seek to recreate the Emirate [Taliban regime 1996-2001], in which they are dominant party ruling Afghanistan,” the diplomat said.
Taliban’s Qatar office spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, declined to comment on the recent developments.
– 2020, year of happenings
In the views of Nicholas Kay, NATO's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, the year 2020 should be a different year for Afghanistan.
“We welcome all efforts toward a cease-fire/reduction in violence. It is an integral part of building confidence between parties to the conflict. But it's also something the Afghan people have been demanding for some time. Those demands must be finally met,” he told Anadolu Agency.
The U.S. presidential elections are due for 2020 while the final results for the Sept. 28 Afghan presidential polls are also expected this year.
A former insurgent commander with close ties to the Taliban in east of Afghanistan, however, played down prospects for a quick-fix in the raging Afghan conflict now in its 19th year amid a volatile regional situation.
“The conflict has been evolving into a Cold War of new sort between the U.S. and the Russian camp with Iran and Pakistan backing the Taliban politically and militarily,” said the foreign rebel leader who asked not to be named.
He also pointed toward differences in at least three major groups within the Taliban, the Quetta Shura, the Peshawar Shura and the Miranshah Shura, with sometimes diverging views further complicating the likelihood of a cease-fire.
The killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike has further added to the already strained regional situation with voices of concerns rising in Afghanistan about a dreadful spillover of Tehran’s anger at the Americans deployed here.
Afghanistan’s former spymaster, Rahmatullah Nabil, has warned of dire consequences if a peace deal is not reached before spring 2020.
In a series of tweets, he said given the recent developments in the region, if the U.S.-Taliban peace deal is not finalized by this spring/summer and Afghan political elite failed to form a national consensus based on national interests, it will not be a surprise that the Taliban may be provided man-portable air-defense systems, which will be a game changer for them in the Afghan conflict.
Back in the 1980s, it was the U.S. Stinger missiles supplied to the Afghan Mujahideen that turned the tables on the then pro-Soviet regime in Kabul.