Afghan Deal: Can the Taliban change and mainstream themselves?

It appears the US and the Taliban are inching towards a deal. They recently negotiated a seven-day reduction in violence. It is now hoped this will transition into a more permanent deal and see the Taliban open negotiations with the Afghan government. And should things pan out according to plan, it could see the US effecting a substantial reduction in its troop presence in Afghanistan from the current level of 13,000. US President Donald Trump is certainly looking forward to this ahead of the US presidential elections later in the year so that he can show it off as another promise delivered.

That said, one has to be cautiously optimistic here. We have been here before and last year the two sides had reportedly worked out a framework agreement according to which the US was supposed to vacate three bases and effect a partial withdrawal of troops in exchange for the Taliban severing ties with al-Qaida and not allowing Afghan soil to be used for attacks against the US and its allies. But Trump called it off citing a Taliban bombing that killed a US soldier. At that time the Taliban had said that a ceasefire was their only bargaining chip and they could not halt violence without getting anything substantial in return. Therefore, the Taliban’s agreement to a reduction in violence this time is an improvement.

But it remains to be seen if the agreement holds. The Taliban have already demonstrated that they cannot be militarily defeated and it is Trump who wants to bring back American troops and end the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan. The challenge here is to moderate the Taliban’s position and make them realise that things can’t go back to the way they were before 2001. They have to talk to the Afghan government and mainstream themselves. And they certainly can’t throw the Afghan Constitution in the bin. Plus, a generation of Afghans has reached adulthood in a post-Taliban moderate society. Afghan women are today in all walks of Afghan life, including in the Afghan Parliament. These liberties are sacrosanct.

So the Taliban have a choice. They can either choose an appropriate role for themselves within the Afghan mainstream, or continue the bloody civil war. They have already proved their point – they have support and cannot be ignored. Now is the time for them to be reasonable. Afghanistan has changed considerably since the time they were in power. The Taliban too must change. This is a historic moment. The Taliban can be a part of a future where Afghanistan is truly the heart of Asia, or it can continue fighting from morbid trenches.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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