The imminent announcement of a date and venue for possible intra-Afghan talks—the first round of negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban—has generated optimism about the possibility of a peaceful political settlement in Afghanistan. As both parties have acknowledged on numerous occasions, the current conflict demands an effective political solution, and the present moment may hold unprecedented potential for a settlement. This by no means suggests an easy road ahead, however, nor that peace can be taken for granted. It is likely that the process will unfold in a manner that demands both the Afghan government and the Taliban compromise their respective hardline positions. Two principal sets of challenges remain: the first—institutional ambiguities and a lack of genuine government consensus—may hinder the process ahead of the negotiations, and the second—the sensitive topics likely to appear on the negotiating agenda—might stymie the negotiation process itself.
The Civil Government’s Bargaining Position and its Challenges
From the Afghan government’s point of view, the most advantageous scenario would be a genuine Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process aligned with its negotiating position. The Afghan government’s position in the negotiations is buttressed by support from its neighbors and other important international actors such as the United States, the European Union, Russia, China, India and Pakistan. Afghanistan’s most important allies—the United States and NATO—will not withdraw their troops fully unless the conditions are met by the Taliban and unless the negotiations achieve concrete results, including a permanent ceasefire and guarantees on peace agreement implementation.
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