The Afghan government announced recently that it wants to close the Taliban’s office in Doha, Qatar.
The Taliban representative’s presence in Doha dates to 2011, with the formal office being established in 2013. The office was originally established to give the Taliban a permanent location in a neutral country where Afghan government officials and the Islamic militants could engage in peace talks.
The ultimate goal was to negotiate a settlement regarding the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.
But to date, Taliban representatives have made no good faith efforts to meet with Afghan government officials.
It’s no surprise that Hanif Atmar, the national security adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, has expressed his desire to have the Qatar government close the Taliban office, as it has been of no benefit to the Afghan government.
The main problem is that the Taliban has refused to meet directly with the Afghan government, labeling it a puppet of the United States. Instead, the Taliban says it will only speak to the U.S. government.
The United States, meanwhile, insists that the Taliban must talk directly to the Afghan government. If there is to be a negotiated peace for the Afghan people, the Taliban must overcome its enmity toward the Afghan government and engage in a peace process with Kabul.
In terms of achieving a negotiated settlement, the Taliban is the main problem.
The government of Afghanistan has done a lot to find a way to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Ghani even recently offered to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate political entity, in exchange for the Taliban’s recognition of the Afghan government and respect for the rule of law, including the rights of women.
This recognition would also mean that the Taliban could open an office in Kabul, or another location, that could be used for further negotiations. To date, however, the Taliban’s response to the proposal has been negative.
The U.S. is also becoming frustrated with the lack of progress toward a negotiated settlement. Last year, the Trump administration initially called for Afghanistan to negotiate political settlement with the Taliban, but changed its tone after a series of attacks that occurred in Kabul targeting civilians.
It remains to be seen if this change in tone from Washington about a negotiated settlement was an actual change in U.S. policy.
Recently, a four-nation effort of the United States, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—spearheaded by the United Nations Security Council—has been formed with the hope of finally bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
It is hoped that the involvement of Saudi Arabia—a religious leader in the Muslim world—would help.
The U.S. military has made substantial progress in the war in Afghanistan over the years, from the elimination of Taliban leaders to the successful U.S. counterinsurgency operations. However, the United States needs to continue to work to strengthen the Afghan government’s competency and press it to root out corruption.
If the war is to end in Afghanistan, it will only be through a political settlement. In the meantime, the United States and the Afghan governments must negotiate a settlement with the Taliban from a position of strength. That’s why it was so important that President Donald Trump remained committed to the campaign last year.