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What to Know as Troubled Afghan Peace Talks Enter a New Part

KABUL, Afghanistan — After 4 a long time of grinding fight in Afghanistan, peace negotiations between the Afghan authorities and the Taliban have raised at the very least a chance that the lengthy cycle of violence may sometime finish.

However that milestone is a good distance off. The latest spherical of discussions, which started in September, have been riddled with bureaucratic hangups and monthslong debates over minor points.

And although these talks resulted in an settlement on the rules and procedures that may information the following spherical of peace negotiations, they got here with a value. Whereas the 2 sides met in Doha, Qatar, bloodletting on battlefields and in Afghan cities surged.

Now with peace talks scheduled to reconvene on Jan. 5, the small print of what’s being negotiated subsequent stay murky.

Whereas each the Afghan authorities and the Taliban have mentioned they won’t publicly launch their lists of priorities for the following spherical of negotiations, right here’s what safety analysts, researchers, and authorities and Taliban officers anticipate to be on the docket — and what hurdles these talks should overcome.

The last word objective of the negotiations is the creation of a political street map for a future authorities. The pinnacle of the federal government negotiation group, Masoom Stanikzai, mentioned Wednesday that a cease-fire could be the delegation’s prime precedence. The Taliban, who’ve used assaults in opposition to safety forces and civilians as leverage, search as an alternative to barter a type of governance primarily based on strict Islamic regulation earlier than discussing any cease-fire.

However getting to those bigger basic points won’t be straightforward, as the 2 sides stay caught on the that means of primary phrases like “cease-fire” and “Islamic.” There are various types of cease-fire, from everlasting and nationwide to partial and conditional, but the general public portion of the February settlement between america and the Taliban calling for the entire withdrawal of American troops mentions however doesn’t particularly mandate or totally outline what it ought to appear to be.

The Taliban additionally refuse to specify what they imply by “Islamic,” and the federal government’s personal insistence on an “Islamic” republic has been a topic of intense debate.

“The Taliban say they need an Islamic system however they don’t specify what variety,” mentioned Abdul Haifiz Mansoor, a member of Afghanistan’s negotiating group, mentioning that there are practically as many methods as there are Islamic nations.

Additionally complicating the following spherical of talks is a Taliban demand that the federal government launch extra Taliban prisoners. The federal government’s launch of greater than 5,000 prisoners eliminated the final impediment to negotiations in September, however President Ashraf Ghani has to this point refused to launch any others.

Each side exploited violence on the bottom in Afghanistan for leverage throughout negotiations in Doha, however the Taliban have been extra aggressive of their assaults than the federal government, whose troops have a tendency to remain on bases and at checkpoints, responding to persistent assaults.

The killing of safety pressure members and civilians surged whereas talks had been underway this fall, in response to a New York Occasions tally, earlier than dropping as soon as Afghan authorities and Taliban negotiators introduced in early December that that they had reached an settlement on the procedures for future talks, although chilly climate doubtless additionally contributed to the decline. No less than 429 pro-government forces had been killed in September, and at the very least 212 civilians had been in October — the worst tolls in every class in additional than a yr.

“Killing and bloodshed have reached new peaks,” mentioned Atiqullah Amarkhel, a army analyst in Kabul. “What sort of will for peace is that this?”

Ibraheem Bahiss, an unbiased Afghan analysis analyst, mentioned the Taliban are pursuing two tracks concurrently: violence and negotiation.

“Their goal is to get into energy and have a selected kind of presidency system,” Mr. Bahiss mentioned. “Whether or not they obtain it by talks or by preventing, each entail prices they’re keen to bear.”

Although the Taliban have tremendously decreased direct assaults on U.S. forces since February, the rebel group has inexorably expanded the territory it controls by besieging native safety forces.

In response, the Individuals have launched airstrikes in situations the place Afghan troops had been underneath excessive duress throughout Taliban onslaughts. A Taliban official framed the group’s ranges of violence as a direct response to airstrikes by america, or to army and ill-received diplomatic strikes by the Afghan authorities.

U.S. airstrikes salvaged the crumpling defenses of Afghan models in Kandahar and Helmand provinces this fall, exposing, as soon as extra, deficiencies in Afghan floor and air forces which can be underneath fixed assault. The forces’ slumping morale has drawn growing concern from Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the U.S.-led mission within the nation, in response to U.S. officers.

On the identical time, American troop numbers have dropped from about 12,000 in February to a projected 2,500 by mid-January, with an entire withdrawal deliberate by Could if the settlement holds. That has left Afghan officers not sure of how their forces can maintain floor with out American assist.

The significance of the talks to america was underscored in November, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Doha and met with negotiators, and once more in mid-December, when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark A. Milley, did the identical.

A Pentagon assertion mentioned Common Milley had pressed the Taliban for “a right away discount of violence,” a time period American officers have used a number of occasions this yr that’s open to a variety of interpretations. U.S. officers try to ascertain an equilibrium on the battlefield.

Each side are additionally ready to see whether or not President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will honor the troop withdrawal schedule or, conceivably, transfer to renegotiate your complete deal.

If Mr. Biden decides to go away a residual American army counterterrorism pressure in Afghanistan after Could 2021, as some American lawmakers are proposing, Mr. Bahiss mentioned, “the Taliban have made it clear that may nullify your complete settlement.”

Given the recriminations and suspicions in Doha, some Afghan analysts worry the talks might stay deadlocked for months.

“Distrust between the 2 sides has led to a rise in violence, however nothing has been accomplished to remove that distrust,” mentioned Syed Akbar Agha, a former chief of the Taliban’s Jaish-ul-Muslimeen group.

That would indefinitely delay severe makes an attempt to deal with core authorities issues like human rights, a free press, rights for girls and non secular minorities, and democratic elections, amongst others.

Taliban negotiators have mentioned they assist ladies’s rights, for instance, however solely underneath strict Islamic regulation. Many analysts interpret that to imply the identical harsh oppression of ladies practiced by the Taliban after they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

The deeply divided authorities in Kabul additionally worries that the Taliban will attempt to run out the clock till all American forces depart, whereas the Taliban contend that Mr. Ghani, who was re-elected in a bitterly disputed election final spring, is stalling to serve out his five-year time period. If some type of authorities of nationwide unity or a transitional authorities had been agreed upon, Mr. Ghani could be unlikely to proceed as president.

One other complication is division throughout the Taliban, from hard-line commanders in Afghanistan to political negotiators in Doha’s resorts. Some Taliban factions consider they need to struggle and defeat the Individuals and the Afghan authorities, not negotiate with them.

Mr. Agha, the previous Taliban chief, mentioned little progress was doubtless except an neutral mediator emerged who might break down the dearth of belief in Doha.

“If not,” he mentioned, “I don’t suppose the following spherical of talks will finish with a constructive outcome.”

Some analysts worry an much more ominous end result. Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan authorities adviser, mentioned, “One factor is obvious — with out a settlement, we’re headed for a civil warfare.”

Najim Rahim, Fahim Abed and Fatima Faizi contributed reporting from Kabul.

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