KABUL, Afghanistan — In the wake of a meeting here Monday to establish a framework for peace negotiations with the Taliban, pressure is likely to grow on the Afghan government to bring the insurgent group into the talks as soon as possible, analysts say.
Officials from four nations – Afghanistan, the United States, Pakistan and China – released a statement after the meeting, in which they said “the group discussed and made progress on a road map towards initiating peace talks with Taliban group.”
That process needs a sense of urgency, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani indicated. He said the Afghan people wouldn’t accept “an open-ended process without tangible results.”
Kabul-based political analyst and author Habibullah Rafi said that although it was clear the four nations would have to work out their own differences first, the Taliban should be included soon.
“The Taliban will be part of the talks, so if you want a solution for the war, you need their participation in making a road map for talks,” he said.
Thomas Ruttig, co-founder of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, urged patience but said that there would be pressure on President Ashraf Ghani to deliver on his pledge to bring peace to the country.
“In a way it’s a little optimistic to talk about such talks not being open-ended when they have not started yet,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s also understandable. Afghanistan’s population needs results, needs peace, and peace is also the No. 1 requirement for President Ghani’s government program of enhancing the Afghan economy so Afghanistan can stand on its own.”
Monday’s talks come slightly more than week after the four nations met in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. The Taliban were not invited to either meeting, and they’re not expected to attend the next talks, scheduled for Feb. 6 in Islamabad.
Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, said he hopes the next meeting will produce a concrete plan to bring in the Taliban.
“I hope by the end of that session, they would be able to have paved the ground for starting the peace talks,” he said.
The main Taliban faction, led by Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, has remained silent about the possibility of participating, as has its affiliate, the Haqqani network. Only Hezb-i-Islami, an insurgent group unaffiliated with the Taliban or Islamic State, has publicly stated support for the process.
Rabbani, whose father, Bernahuddin Rabbani was assassinated by Taliban suicide bombers when he headed Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, struck a note of urgency in opening the Monday meeting.
“Any further delay on the part of the Taliban to come to the table for talks now will further isolate them in the eyes of the Afghan people,” he said. “Those who would miss this opportunity to join the peace and reconciliation process will indicate clearly that a sovereign, independent, stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan is not in their interest, and that their objectives are only terror and destruction.”
Ghani’s first attempt at peace talks fell apart last summer when it emerged that longtime Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had been dead for two years.
News of Omar’s death sparked a continuing power struggle within the Taliban. The leadership of Mansoor is opposed by a faction led by Mullah Muhammad Rasool.
Insurgents had ratcheted up attacks in Kabul and other major Afghan cities after Ghani’s New Year’s Eve announcement of the four-nation meetings. Two rockets hit the gate of the Italian Embassy in the capital Sunday night. On Monday, despite fears of an attack aimed at the meeting, Kabul was quiet.
It was unclear whether the lull in violence was a subtle message from the Taliban or simply the result of effective security measures.
Aside from the need to persuade insurgent groups to participate, it will be equally important for the Afghan government to find a national consensus on what represents an acceptable peace deal, Ruttig said.
“Afghans themselves individually must make up their mind about what they want,” he said. “Yes, they want peace, but do they want the Taliban to come back as part of a future government?”
Given the missteps in the past and the continuing violence, Qasimyar said Afghans will take a lot of convincing that this process will bring results.
“The voice of the people is for peace, and they say we desperately need peace and security, and this is their basic right, to live in peace and security,” he said. “Looking back and taking into consideration what was done in the past, though, they are skeptical.”
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.