Inter-Afghan talks are regarded as the third stage of the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan after the agreement between the Taliban and the government of the United States in Qatar’s Doha and the implementation of the conditions for the start of inter-Afghan talks since 2016 when the Trump administration came into power. In the first part of this process, the parties reached a comprehensive agreement on issues such as providing anti-terrorism guarantees, withdrawal of forces, inter-Afghan talks and comprehensive ceasefire. All the four issues agreed between the parties were considered as significant by domestic and foreign players in Afghanistan and each one of the players of the political scene in Afghanistan were trying to guide the peace process in their own desired direction, considering their priorities and issues; notwithstanding, the government of Afghanistan, under the pressure of the United States, had no choice but to accept and implement the preconditions for the start of inter-Afghani talks such as the release of prisoners by both parties and pave the grounds for holding these talks even with several months of delay. The third key stage of the Afghan peace process began officially on 12 September 2020 in Doha in the presence of the Secretary of State of the United States and the webinar participation of the ministers of foreign affairs of China, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, representatives of the European countries and also the Secretary General of the United Nations.
The third stage of the peace process in Afghanistan could be described as the main stage of the process. In case of agreement between the two parties to reach peace, a positive outlook could be envisaged for Afghanistan; however, in case a sustainable peace agreement is not concluded, the future of Afghanistan could turn into a major concern for the players of the scene in that country.
At the present time, evidence demonstrates that the main goal of the United States is nothing but to withdraw some of its military forces from Afghanistan and US President Trump is trying to prepare the grounds for the exit of American troopers from Afghanistan with the minimum cost. Notwithstanding, there is no specific outlook of an American plan or initiative to attain such a goal. Whether or not the United States will or can use what leverage and tool guide the inter-Afghan talks to materialize its main goal remains ambiguous. However, one can presuppose that in case inter-Afghan talks fail, the costs of the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan would significantly increase.
A review of the nature of the first round of inter-Afghan talks demonstrates that the ongoing talks are much more controversial than consultation and dialog to find a solution. And in future, we should expect high level and tough bargaining among domestic and foreign Afghan players. However, that such talks and bargaining among the Afghans constitute the last stage of the political action of players involved in Afghanistan or there remain other stages, is an issue which is tied to the outcome of the ongoing talks and should be basically examined in future.
Given the deep differences which exist among the Afghan parties, the ongoing talks cannot be expected to yield results in the short term. However, given the role and amount of influence of the United States on the ongoing negotiations and the need of Trump to exploit them in his election campaigns during the short period to 03 November 2020 election date, it seems inter-Afghan talks would continue in the near future.
Given the positions taken by the Taliban, who have been able to gain remarkable concessions from the United States so far, and the stances adopted by the government of Afghanistan, which has been forced to give unlimited concessions during this period to enter the third stage of inter-Afghan talks, the significance of the ongoing talks are doubled; so are the hardship. In these negotiations, the delegation of the Afghan government has talked about the necessity of maintaining the Islamic Republic establishment and has voiced readiness to share power with the Taliban. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in his trip to Bamian promised people that he will defend with all his power the democratic values and rights of the Afghans to choose their next establishment. On the other side, the Taliban has emphasized the necessity of establishing an Islamic system with Hanafi jurisdiction as its Sharia basis for implementing Islamic law. Considering the conditions set by both parties for each other, the inter-Afghan talks seem to have turned from being an effort and consultation for the settlement of differences to a ground for bargaining between the parties. Success in such bargaining depends on various factors. However, the main question is: what scenarios could be envisaged for the continuation of the ongoing talks?
One of the scenarios envisaged for inter-Afghan talks is the failure of negotiations before the upcoming US presidential elections on 03 November 2020. The collapse of negotiations among the Afghans means an end to all the efforts to establish peace through politics and diplomacy and a return to the direction of war and conflict. The failure of talks before the US elections, is not an impossible issue. However, given the insistence of Trump in expediting and strengthening talks, it seems that it is highly unlikely for it to happen, especially when we see the Taliban have been successful in gaining more concessions from Trump than they even thought and are therefore not prepared to take measures and adopt decisions which could ruin their past and future efforts before the US elections.
The second possible scenario is the failure of the talks after the upcoming US presidential elections. In case inter-Afghan negotiations in Doha collapse, there is no doubt that violence will get exacerbated in Afghanistan. With an increase in the level of violence, it could be hard to return to the negotiation table. Agreement reached at the negotiation table is more valuable for both parties than agreement through military means using violence and killing. Therefore, both parties would emphasize, wherever appropriate, the continuation of the ongoing talks and try to avoid being blamed for leaving the negotiation table. This is while failure of talks is possible in the medium period.
The third scenario of the future of inter-Afghan talks is the agreement of both parties to move in a specific direction to accomplish a goal sought by each party. Ceasefire and reformation of the political structure are two short-term objectives over which both the Taliban and the Afghan government have consensus. This is while the formation of a transitional government and holding elections are considered as a point of difference between the two parties. Bargaining over the ceasefire and prioritizing each of these goals are among the issues to be bargained in this scenario. Given the substantial difference in the main objectives of each of the parties, the realization of this scenario appears to be hard and time-consuming.
In case no agreement is achieved and the US troops do not completely withdraw from Afghanistan, the most probable scenario is the resumption of war and conflict in Afghanistan.