A Day of Afghan-U.S. Peace Talks in Qatar and Pakistan
June 7, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, convened in Islamabad, Pakistan, to discuss an anticipated peace plan between the Afghan government and the Taliban. U.S. commander of international troops in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, accompanied Khalilzad. Before Khalilzad’s trip, the U.S. State Department stated that the main goal was to “obtain agreement between the Afghan parties on the practical next steps necessary for a smooth start to intra-Afghan negotiations.” Following a relatively successful three-day Eid ceasefire between the Afghan army and Taliban militants as well as anticipated prisoner releases, the officials had reason to be encouraged to discuss clear steps toward making the intra-Afghan peace process a reality. Additionally, during this meeting, Khalilzad and Bajwa discussed topics such as amping up security at the disputed Afghan-Pakistani border and the possibility of repatriating close to three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
These talks in Pakistan occurred the same day Khalilzad met with the Taliban’s political chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Doha, Qatar, at the Taliban’s political headquarters. While in Doha, the two representatives discussed the intended prisoner swaps as well as commencing the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
In February, the United States signed an agreement meant to end its war with the Taliban that started in 2001. The agreement stipulates that the Afghan government must return 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the Taliban must return 1,000 prisoners. As of now, the former has released 2,700 and the latter has released 460. The agreement also plans to gradually decrease the U.S. presence in Afghanistan (as long as the Taliban follows the security regulations laid out), until they are completely withdrawn by 2021. This agreement was a breakthrough for not only U.S.-Afghan relations, but also for intra-Afghan relations.
Should these talks come to fruition, cooperation between the Taliban and the Afghan government can mean the start of a new Afghanistan. This willingness to cooperate on both sides is a groundbreaking sign of possible change for the security of and political opportunities for Afghanistan. An official U.S. statement on the meeting in Pakistan noted that “the two agreed peace in Afghanistan offers an unprecedented opportunity to advance security, connectivity, and development for the region.” Indeed, a more stabilized and secure Afghanistan can lead to more secure borders in the Caspian region, as well as opening up the possibility for more cooperation within the region politically and economically.