- The government agrees on a negotiating team
Either the USA’s threat to hold back $1 billion in aid worked, or the Taliban’s refusal to accept the initial government negotiating team did. Whatever the reason, the endorsement by former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah of the government negotiating team opened the way on Tuesday for a resumption of the peace process which had begun with an agreement between US representatives and the Taliban, and which was supposed to continue with another negotiation over the political and constitutional future of the country. This dialogue was supposed to be preceded by a prisoner swap between the Kabul government and the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani baulked at this, however, and as the Taliban made this swap a precondition of further talks, the entire peace agreement was jeopardized.
Accompanying Mr Abdullah’s endorsement, the arrival of a Taliban delegation in Kabul to help supervise the prisoner swap indicated that President Ghani had agreed to letting the prisoner swap go ahead, thus abandoning his position that the fate of Taliban prisoners in government hands (or Afghan National Army prisoners in Taliban hands) was to be a bargaining chip in the intra-Afghan talks. It is noticeable that whereas Mr Ghani objected to the prisoner-swap, the Taliban had objected to the negotiating team, arguing that it did not represent the Afghan opposition. Mr Abdullah is still aggrieved over his second successive presidential election loss last winter, but overlooked his claim to be President to endorse the negotiating team.
It seems possible, indeed likely, that the path to a solution will hit obstacles like this. However, it should not be forgotten that the negotiations are in the hands of the USA, which has got enough boots on the ground in Afghanistan to make it worth the while of the Taliban to keep engaged, as well as the Kabul government. The USA wants to withdraw its troops before the presidential election, which places an outer time limit on any negotiations. All parties engaged in talks are aware of this, and it cannot help being a factor in the talks. It is perhaps unfortunate that the peace process depends on the domestic politics of a country two oceans and a continent away, but those regional powers which desire the peace of the region have to work their way around this.