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March 15, 2019
1 year

Why in news?

  • The longest round of peace talks yet between the US and the Taliban ended recently.
  • It marks a shift in stands of the stakeholders and offers hopes for an ending to the prolonged war in Afghanistan.

Why the talks now?

  • The war in Afghanistan, the second longest armed conflict in American military history after Vietnam, has claimed thousands of lives on all sides.
  • Afghan civilians, US-led coalition troops, and those belonging to insurgent groups have been affected.
  • The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have together cost the American taxpayer almost $6 trillion since 2001.
  • So eventually, the US has realised the futility of the military option.
  • The need to stop the ceaseless fighting has become the top priority for all parties.
  • Back in 2011, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had spoken of the need to distinguish between the “good” and “bad” Taliban.
  • The view in favour of holding talks has only strengthened since then.

Why is the shift in Taliban's stance?

  • The Taliban have been grappling with the emergence of the ISIS in Afghanistan.
  • The ISIS is in direct conflict with both the Taliban and the US-backed Afghan government.
  • However, the Taliban is keen to demonstrate to the Afghan people that it seriously wants to govern them.

How did the talks evolve?

  • In 2018, the administration of US President Donald Trump asked the State Department to explore the possibility of talks with the Taliban.
  • This signalled a major paradigm shift in American policy towards the Taliban.
  • Zalmay Khalilzad, the former American ambassador to Afghanistan, was appointed the special US envoy to initiate the peace process.
  • Reaching out to the Taliban, a framework peace deal was agreed “in principle” in January 2019.
  • The current talks are directed towards materialising this framework.

What is the significance?

  • At the close of these talks, both sides agreed to an “agreement in draft” on two of the most critical areas central to American interests-
  1. a commitment by the Taliban to not allow anti-American activities on Afghan soil
  2. a time-bound withdrawal of American troops
  • The US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad expressed his sense of achievement on Twitter.
  • The talks and the statement indicate a change in the US policy on the Taliban from an armed invasion to peaceful negotiations at present.
  • Moreover, the Taliban delegation for the talks was chaired by Mullah Baradar, a co-founder of the Islamist movement and one of its most senior leaders.
  • He was released by Pakistan last year after almost a decade of incarceration.

What are the unresolved concerns?

  • Afghan government - The Taliban have from the beginning been firm that they would not talk directly with the Afghan government.
  • The Taliban consider the Afghan government to be a US puppet.
  • However, with the current negotiations, a change in the Taliban’s attitude could perhaps be expected now.
  • With the upcoming talks, the two sides are expected to discuss the possibility of a complete ceasefire after the US troops' departure, definitively ending the war.
  • Freedom - During their government from 1996 to 2001, and in many of the areas that they controlled, the Taliban enforced a highly puritanical form of Islam.
  • They have banished women from public life, restricted their access to schools, and banned music and television.
  • After the Taliban's ouster from power, Afghanistan has taken steps towards providing to its people constitutional freedoms.
  • The government has created the conditions for an independent media and an increased role for women.
  • It is now widely feared that the return of the Taliban would destroy these hard-won achievements which are still in the evolving phase.
  • Despite these, a political arrangement with the Taliban is a price that the government is now willing to pay.
  • However, this is only on the assurance that Afghanistan will not be allowed to become a terrorist threat to the West again.

What does it mean for India?

  • Afghanistan is a strategic investment for India, and India has made significant contributions to the rebuilding of the country.
  • However, it has not been India's principle to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists.
  • So in effect, India rules out direct negotiation with the Taliban.
  • India’s participation in the Moscow talks with Taliban last year was only in a ‘non-official capacity’.
  • Most likely, Taliban will have a major say in the government of Afghanistan at least for the foreseeable future.
  • But India’s strategic presence in Afghanistan stands on a much lower footing compared to that of Pakistan.
  • It was, notably, Pakistan's intelligence wing that in many ways created the Taliban, and which continues to influence its leaders.
  • So once the Americans withdraw fully and the Taliban take over the country in a direct or indirect capacity, India will have a tough time.


Source: Indian Express

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