Taliban takes centre stage as Kabul cut out of peace talks

6 February, 2019 12:00 AM printer

KABUL: President Ashraf Ghani is being pushed to the sidelines as the Taliban ignores his overtures for peace and negotiates instead with his friends, and enemies, over the future of Afghanistan, reports AFP.

From Doha to Moscow, the insurgents are meeting an array of envoys with competing interests in Afghanistan, from the United States eager to withdraw their troops to political leaders in Kabul jostling for power. Experts say regional powers—including US foes Iran and Russia—are angling for an audience with the Taliban, who are already outlining their vision for Islamic rule once foreign troops leave.

The elephant in the room is Ghani, whose US-backed administration has not been invited to the table, despite a failed year-long effort to spark a dialogue with the Taliban.

“The sad irony is that Afghanistan’s government is in danger of getting written out of the script of its own peace process,” analyst Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, told AFP.

Ghani’s allies in Washington insist Afghans should lead the peace process, and ostensibly the months-long push by the US to engage the Taliban has been aimed at convincing them to negotiate with the government in Kabul.

Those efforts culminated in an unprecedented six days of talks between the US and the Taliban in Doha in January.

The marathon negotiations ended with both sides touting “progress”—spurring Afghan fears the US could cut a deal with the militants to withdraw its forces before a lasting peace with Kabul is reached. “It’s a major snub because without the Americans, the government in Kabul cannot survive,” said Gilles Dorronsoro, a French researcher specialising in Afghanistan.

A week later, the Taliban agreed to a rare sit-down in Russia with some of Ghani’s biggest political rivals.

The talks in Moscow hosted by an Afghan diaspora group in Russia—which are separate from the US negotiations—start Tuesday and would canvass the “end of occupation, enduring peace in homeland and establishment of an intra-Afghan Islamic system of governance”, the Taliban said. Frozen out for a second time, a furious Ghani vowed he would not be an idle spectator as his country’s future was debated abroad.

“Even if I have one drop of blood in my body, I am not going to surrender to a temporary peace deal,” he railed in a speech Sunday, as details of the Moscow conference broke. The frustration and sense of betrayal in Kabul is palpable. Amrullah Saleh, a Ghani ally, accused those Afghan leaders travelling to Moscow for the Taliban talks—including former president Hamid Karzai—of “begging to terrorists”.

“A smile to the enemy is a blow to the national spirit,” Saleh said.