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Insights into Editorial: Negotiating with the Taliban

Insights into Editorial: Negotiating with the Taliban

29 January 2016

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The recently concluded Doha Dialogue on ‘Peace and Security in Afghanistan’ presents a number of opportunities for the international community, as well as India, in dealing with the resurgent Taliban phenomenon.

  • This conference was significant because key leaders from the Taliban’s Qatar office, the only one of its kind set up by the dominant Taliban faction of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, were in full attendance at the meeting. The Taliban leaders have put forward a number of conditions for initiating a peace process in Afghanistan. However, the meeting was boycotted by the Afghan government.

Why the Doha process is significant at this juncture?

It comes at a time when the official Quadrilateral Coordination Group on Afghan Peace and Reconciliation, with participation from the governments of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and the U.S., has become a non-starter due to the non-participation of the Taliban.

  • The Taliban has also shown its willingness to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with the Afghan government.
  • It is also for the first time since the Taliban’s fall in 2001, they have started clarifying the contours of their vision for Afghanistan.

But, why should we make peace with a violent outfit holding highly objectionable religious and political views and what’s in it for Afghanistan?

  • With no less than 60,000 heavily armed men in their ranks, the Taliban are reportedly in control of around 30% of Afghanistan’s districts, with their reach and control steadily on the rise. Hence, not going ahead with the peace process is indeed a worse option, and could prove to be suicidal for Afghanistan and its people.
  • Even, the powerful NATO troops in 2011 could not stop the Taliban’s territorial gains. Now, the NATO has been withdrawn from Afghanistan. However, U.S. has decided to keep close to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan this year, and around 5,000 in 2017. But, this can hardly bring any changes.
  • The involvement of USA and widespread fraud during the 2014 presidential election in Afghanistan has dented the legitimacy of the Afghan government. Now, with decreasing American military support, very little political legitimacy, and sheer lack of military strength to run its writ over the country, the Afghan administration will find itself in more trouble in the years ahead. The more it delays direct talks with the Taliban, the weaker its negotiating position would become prompting the Taliban to seek even more concessions.
  • The Taliban leadership has repeatedly hinted at possible power-sharing arrangements with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during the recent Doha deliberations. Given its many weaknesses, Afghanistan would do well by engaging the Taliban in a dialogue process.
  • During the conference, the Taliban assured the dialogue participants, including Afghan women, parliamentarians and civil society activists, that they would respect women’s rights (to work, choose their spouse, etc.) and ensure modern education for all, including girls. In order to assess this as well as to nudge them to change even more, it is important to engage them.
  • The Taliban representatives have also pledged open support for the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project and guaranteed that they would ensure the security of the pipeline along with the Afghan government.

Issues that need to be addressed:

The most important issue is that the Taliban, who refer to themselves as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, are unwilling to submit themselves to the Afghan Constitution and accept the term “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” written in its preamble. Intent on creating an “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, they propose to establish a state based on the Sharia law. They are non-committal on the question of democracy, partly due to their interpretation of Islam, and partly due to their fear whether the Afghan people would accept them if they fought an open and transparent election without the might of the gun.

  • Since it is difficult for the Afghan government and for the international community to accept this proposal, a power-sharing agreement may be proposed by the Taliban. This could be difficult for both the Afghan government and the international community to concede and could well be a deal-breaker.
  • But, the Afghan government should seize this opportunity and accept some of the Taliban’s preconditions for talks, such as allowing them to open a formal office on Afghan soil.

India’s fears and options:

It is a well known fact that India has had a frosty relationship with the Taliban due to a number of reasons. Hence, India’s cautious approach towards the Taliban is reasonable. However, it is right time for India to play a more proactive role in the Afghan reconciliation process. It is important to take note of the laudable attempts made by the Taliban representatives in Doha at allaying India’s fears by stating that they would not allow their territory to be used for terror activities, and that their foreign policy would not be dictated by anyone (an indirect reference to Pakistan).

  • India’s Afghan policy, ever since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, has been impressive and imaginative. However, it does fall short in meeting the country’s future objectives in Afghanistan in the context of the emerging political realities there.
  • India should therefore make use of the reconciliation process in Afghanistan to subtly engage all stakeholders there. The Doha process and the message from the Taliban leadership based in the Qatari capital should be taken seriously by India.