Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Sep 16, 2020
Are Taliban after peace or power?

“We do not recognize the corrupt administration in Kabul, it is not elected by the Afghans and does not represent anyone”. That was the statement of the Taliban Deputy Chief Negotiator Abbas Stanikzai in a recent interview on post US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal in Qatar three months back to pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue and finally end the 19 years of war in Afghanistan. After two years of negotiations with the US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, the Taliban has one stand insisting on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Taliban had refused the demands of Afghans, religious scholars across the globe, and the international community for a ceasefire, and to engage with the Afghan government on peace talks. The Taliban do not recognize the Afghan government and call it “Kabul administration”, one that is installed by the US. However, last Saturday, the intra-Afghan peace talks took place in Doha where the Taliban political leaders based in Qatar and a delegation from Kabul composed of politicians and representatives of the Afghan government attended.

Among others, both sides discussed how to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan and the what a future government could look like. The parties have indicated to media that so far, the talks have been going well without any obstacles. However, the participants are yet to reach the more challenging items of the discussion which includes a ceasefire, the first and foremost demand of the Afghans. Taliban has asked foreign representatives not to be present in the talks taking place behind closed doors. The intra-Afghan peace talks are welcomed by the international community as a big step to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan. However, the question remains, does the Taliban want peace or power?

In one of the sideline interviews, Taliban Deputy Chief Negotiator Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanickzai said that only one person will represent Kabul Administration (Afghan government) and the rest would be from other Afghan political parties. In addition, local Afghan media outlet TOLO News disclosed that Taliban political leader in Qatar, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar refrained meeting Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation if the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan is in attendance.

The Taliban states that the group fights the international forces in Afghanistan led by the US forces until the occupation is ended. Despite the US agreeing to a full withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan and beginning of the intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha this week, the Taliban has continued fighting the Afghan forces. After signing the deal with the US, the group has an undeclare ceasefire with the US but not with the Afghan government. This increases the conjecture that the group is after gaining power.

The Taliban leaders have also indicated to their fighters that the leaders of the Taliban aim for returning the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan (the official name of the Taliban). In a video recording leaked to the media, Mullah Fazel Mazloom, who is a political leader of the Taliban in Qatar said that the future leader of Afghanistan would be from the Taliban. Mullah Fazel said this during his meeting with the Taliban’s commanders in a bordering area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He added that the group would bring sharia law in the country and insists that these are the red lines for the Taliban. Mullah Fazel was the Taliban’s Deputy Minister of Defense and top commander of the group in northern Afghanistan. He was also an associate of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mullah Fazel said that in the post US withdrawal, it would be up to the leader of the Taliban on who other than the Taliban can join or work with the Taliban’s future administration.

Maulavi Kabir is another senior member of the Taliban’s leadership. He was the Taliban’s Deputy Council of Ministers and the head of the eastern zone of Afghanistan. He said that the Taliban’s success remains in the change of of the current Afghan government. If the system (government) is in its place and the Taliban are supposed to sit down with the Afghan government, the situation will be worse than in the past. Meaning that such a situation would not be acceptable to the Taliban.

Mullah Haibatullah, the supreme leader of the Taliban also stated to his followers about the US -Taliban peace deal. He said that Mujahideen of the Islamic emirate should make their ranks well-arranged and powerful to accomplish their great goal, which is the re-establishment of the Islamic regime after the occupation. The statement insisted that there cannot be another ruler of Afghanistan in the presence of a legal Amir (Mullah Haibatullah).

Not only the Taliban leaders but the US has intelligence that the group does not intend to abide the terms of the US -Taliban agreement. According to NBC News, President Donald Trump has also acknowledged that the Taliban could possibly overrun the Afghan government post the US troops pullout. He said this after a week from the US -Taliban deal in Qatar.

Amid peace deal with the US, and the intra-Afghan peace talks, the Taliban continuously insist on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan first then they would agree in intra-Afghan peace talks to form an inclusive Islamic government. In 1996 when the Taliban attacked Kabul, the group had made similar statement that they would engage in intra-Afghan negotiations.

Why the Taliban prefer to talk to Afghan political leaders than the Afghan government?

President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban unconditional peace talks two years ago, including withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan. In response, the Taliban rejected the offer and claimed that until the US announces a schedule for withdrawing their troops, the group would not participate in any peace talks with the Afghan government.

The Taliban met the political leaders several times, including in peace talks convened in Moscow, last year in Qatar, and this week again in Qatar. The leaders who met the Taliban in previous intra-Afghan dialogues included former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and well-known leaders from the northern alliance, namely Yunus Qanuni (former vice president), Atta Mohammad Noor and Ismail Khan. These political leaders have fought the Taliban for many years. Former President Hamid Karzai fought the Taliban for over a decade with the strong support of the US.

The Taliban has realized that these political leaders no longer have armed forces to leverage their demands. Therefore, engaging with these political leaders, the groups would call it intra-Afghan dialogue and could appoint some of these leaders in a future Taliban administration.

Taliban’s political leaders in Qatar are open to negotiating with the Afghan government on an inclusive administration post the US withdrawal. However, the group’s military commissions within Afghanistan insists on war and taking over the country wholesomely. The Taliban need to get the confidence of the Afghans by declaring a ceasefire. Otherwise, it is widely believed that the group is after a peace which can return only its own Islamic emirate.

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Hashim Wahdatyar

Hashim Wahdatyar

Hashim Wahdatyar is an Afghan political analyst based in Washington D.C. He has previously worked for UNODCs Regional Program for Afghanistan and Neighboring Countries.

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