The Forgotten Voice in the Taliban Peace Talks
When President Trump officially ended the peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, reactions to the decision ran the gamut--some were relieved, others angered, and many were simply confused. The move came only hours after Trump announced that both the Taliban and the Afghan government would be invited to Camp David for ongoing negotiations, and followed reports announcing that all three entities were nearing a final accord to be signed. While peace between all three participants now seems out of reach again, many in Afghanistan, including the democratically elected President Ashraf Ghani, never felt that the deal presented an option for peace in the first place.
From the start of the peace talks, the Taliban negotiators attempted to suppress the Afghan perspective, claiming that the government was illegitimate and held no authority, despite the fact that it was elected by the Afghan people. Even the United States, traditionally an ally of Afghanistan, aligned more closely with the Taliban than the government and Ghani, affording Ghani only twenty minutes to review a draft of the negotiated peace deal. While Afghan citizens overwhelmingly support a peaceful end to the ongoing conflict with the Taliban, they also are concerned by the veracity of the Taliban’s claim to agree to a cease-fire and fear that, after the United States pulls out forces, there will be nothing to stop the Taliban from overthrowing the government completely and ridding the country of any dissidents. After reading the draft of the negotiated deal, Reuters reports that Ghani implied that it amounted to “surrender to the Taliban.”
One significant concern expressed by two prominent Afghan scholars to NPR revolved around the role of women in an Afghanistan increasingly controlled by the Taliban. Whereas women living under the Taliban rule prior to 2001 were not allowed to pursue education and lived restricted lives deprived of their rights, Afghan women since have flooded the schools in Afghanistan. The number of girls enrolled in school now amounts to around 3 million according to The Council on Foreign Relations’s Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. However, the peace talks between the United States and the Taliban failed to discuss the guarantee of women’s rights and failed to include the voice of Afghan activists or government officials advocating for women.
Now that the talks have fallen through, the upcoming Afghan election will move forward on September 28th, presenting an opportunity for the Afghan government and Ghani--who is the frontrunner--to secure a mandate from the electorate. Prior to the abrupt end of the negotiations, both the Taliban and Western diplomats encouraged Afghanistan to postpone the elections, fearing that they would negatively impact the talks. This new opportunity for Ghani to flout the Afghan people’s support gives him and the government as a whole leverage against the Taliban moving forward. With the full weight of a democratic election behind him, Ghani now would hold a better position in any future negotiations, hopefully securing a pathway through which the voice of the Afghan people can be heard.