Frozen Out: What is Happening to the Afghan Government

It seems like every world power wants to be involved in Afghanistan’s future. U.S. officials have met with the Taliban in Qatar, and Russia held a conference attended by a wide range of nations, such as Iran, China, and Pakistan. Even notable Afghanis, including former president Hamid Karzai and some political opposition members, have met with the Taliban. Noticeably, the current Afghanistan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, has not attended any of these talks or has held any meetings with the Taliban.

The reason for the lack of involvement regarding the Afghan government and the Taliban is that the Taliban maintain the stance that the Afghanistan government is merely a political puppet of the United States, not a legitimate entity. This poses significant problems for President Ghani’s reelection hopes, as voters will head out to choose their next leader later this year.

President Ghani has made it clear that no peace deal will succeed unless his government is made a party to the talks, but that has failed to have any sort of significant impact on the proceedings. They were not invited to the peace conference in Moscow, while Afghan opposition leaders were in attendance. They have not been invited to the talks the United States special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held with the Taliban in Doha in January, which allegedly resulted in the framework of a possible peace deal. These events result in significant political damage to President Ghani, as it portrays his government has merely being a passenger in the peace process. Rather than being an active participant in deciding Afghanistan future, President Ghani appears passive, having little to no influence on the proceedings. Opposition leaders, some of who have announced their candidacy to run against Ghani in the presidential elections, have been able to attend these conferences, providing them with significant political leverage over the incumbent.

The Taliban’s chief negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, has not hidden his contempt for President Ghani’s administration. In a widely circulated videotaped interview, Mr. Stanekzai reveals that the Taliban does not recognize the government and expects the Afghan Army to disband as well, labeling them as an American-made force. While this may just be a negotiating stance, it caused many to recall the chaos in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union’s withdrawal, a chaos which eventually led to the Taliban seizing power.

Afghanistan’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, issued some provocative statements recently, accusing Mr. Khalilzad of seeking personal benefit by sidelining the Afghan government, with ambitions to be a “viceroy” in an interim government. These comments indicate the level of distrust the Afghan government has towards the proceedings happening between the United States and the Taliban. Mr. Mohib also expressed his disappointment that the information being given to the government was only “bits and pieces,” and that the talks served to increase the legitimacy of the Taliban while decreasing the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

While American officials have consistently insisted that Washington will not accept any negotiated deal without the Taliban speaking directly to the Afghan government, and that the Afghan government will be able to contribute their input and their views, as things stand currently little action has been taken. The lack of action from the United States does not inspire confidence. Regardless of the veracity of the rumors abounding that the United States and the Taliban have agreed to various withdrawal timetables, it does seem that significant talks are progressing without the Afghan government providing their input or approval.

Questions remain over whether the United States negotiating team could have done more to push the Taliban into allowing the Afghan government to at least be present at the negotiations. There are also significant concerns that since the United States is extremely fatigued by the war in Afghanistan, that they will pressure the Afghanistan government into accepting “a deal that doesn’t end in peace,” a fear shared by Mr. Mohib. After all, the United States agreed to enter talks with the Taliban, a significant departure from their stance a few years ago. Within Afghanistan, there is a generation that grew up outside of the strict Taliban-ruled society, particularly women, who fear a return to those much more oppressive days.

Photo Credit: Hedayatullah Amid/EPA