Peace talks with Taliban 'best chance' to end war in Afghanistan: analyst
Nick Kirmse, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Tuesday, March 12, 2019 8:37PM EDT
An end may be in sight for the war in Afghanistan, but it seems that words, not war, may finally bring a close to the conflict.
U.S. and Taliban officials concluded their two-week talks in Qatar to discuss the terms for Afghan reconciliation, with both sides coming out of the meetings feeling positive about bringing an end to the 17-year conflict.
“This diplomacy is the best chance we’ve seen in more than a decade to finally bring the war to an end,” International Crisis Group’s Graeme Smith told CTV’s Power Play.
The Taliban have long demanded direct talks with the U.S., but it wasn’t until last year that Washington decided to open face-to-face negotiations.
“It’s clear all sides want to end the war,” U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wrote on Twitter. “Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides.”
A Taliban official at the talks told The Associated Press that the main sticking point was when U.S. forces would withdraw from the country, with the Taliban wanting a withdrawal within three to five months and the U.S. saying the process would talk 18 months to two years.
Another source of contention is the American demand that the Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will never harbor militants who would launch an attack against the U.S. The Taliban have agreed to a general promise, but fall short of identifying specific groups in their pledge.
“There’s really tough negotiation ahead about the political future of the country,” Smith told Power Play.
The Taliban issued their own statement following the talks, stressing that no ceasefire deal had been reached, and that it still did not agree to speak to the Afghan government.
"For now, both sides will deliberate over the achieved progress, share it with their respective leaderships and prepare for the upcoming meeting, the date of which shall be set by both negotiation teams," the statement read.
But aggressive acts continue, with the Taliban carrying out near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces, which Smith says will only escalate as the weather gets warmer.
“There’s a real risk that the rising violence could sidetrack the negotiations,” he said. “It’s going to take steely nerves on all sides to keep the focus on the bargaining table.”
But the move to settle, rather than win, the war may leave a bad taste in the mouth of some Canadians, who wonder if the sacrifice would be in vain if the Taliban remains in place.
Canada entered the war in Afghanistan in 2001, sending more than 40,000 troops to join in the effort to topple the Taliban regime over the course of Canadian engagement.
Canadian forces remained deployed for more than a decade, and 159 personnel were killed.
“I think it’s worth looking back at some of our mistakes in Afghanistan – not just how we fought the war, but why we went to war in the first place,” Smith said.
“People who were saying that we should talk our way out of this rather than fighting our way out of this start to look a little more prescient in retrospect.”
With files from the Associated Press