Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, a former foreign minister under the Taliban, says the Taliban and the Afghan government need to rethink their approaches to the peace talks. He said without a committed Afghan-led effort to make peace, Afghanistan will not see an end to the protracted war. Radio Free Afghanistan spoke with Muttawakil to get his take on what is standing in the way of successful talks.
RFE/RL: Do you think the talks in Norway this week can help the Afghan peace process?
Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil: I prefer official negotiations over unofficial talks for peace. Even if the two sides cannot engage in direct negotiations, [they can find ways] to begin indirect talks. Indirect peace talks -- through a third party -- could be a middle ground that will raise Afghan hopes for a settlement. Unofficial meetings and talks can only break the deadlock and pave the way for official talks that can eventually lead to a comprehensive settlement.
RFE/RL: Do the Taliban want a peace deal now?
Muttawakil: There is no doubt that after every war, there is peace. I also know that most Afghans desire peace and reconciliation. But official negotiations have not begun yet and there has not been an agreement on a cease-fire. I cannot see any progress in this regard anytime soon. I do not expect any side of the conflict to agree to a cease-fire or to end the war altogether.
RFE/RL: Do you think a cease-fire would help in jump-starting formal peace negotiations?
Muttawakil: I do not think that a cease-fire is possible before an agreement is reached on a formal beginning for peace talks. At the moment, both sides appear to have hardened their respective positions. The Afghan government claims to be fighting to defend the country, while the Taliban claim to be fighting a holy war. I think unless official talks begin and some agreements are made, we will not see a cease-fire.
RFE/RL: Why have official negotiations not yet begun?
Muttawakil: Making peace requires a strong resolve and commitment from all sides. I think the Afghan government and the other side has not shown a willingness to do so. I don't see practical efforts in this direction. The Taliban office in Qatar that the Taliban are trying to have recognized as their political office has not been recognized as such by the Afghan government.
So challenges remain. Without a strong commitment, real progress, and an Afghan led effort, there won’t be any tangible results. The Afghan government is relying on neighbors and some international powers to bring peace. But it will be difficult for these efforts to bear fruit unless Afghans themselves work towards making the peace work.
RFE/RL: Do Afghans simply not know how to bring lasting peace to their country?
Muttawakil: I think both sides have made mistakes. They truly need to try to understand each other's circumstances, positions, and limitations. The Afghan government, for instance, assumes that Pakistan holds the key to resolving all Afghan problems. It assumes Islamabad has control [over the Taliban], and that reconciliation and agreements with Pakistan will solve all of Kabul's problems.
But the reality is different. It is true that neighboring countries have a role to play, but this is primarily an Afghan issue, and it won't be solved without real commitment from Afghans. Expecting peace to be brokered by neighboring countries is merely wasting time.
RFE/RL: What advice would you offer the current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani regarding the peace process?
Muttawakil: Firstly, honest and committed efforts for holding formal peace negotiation should begin immediately. Secondly, Kabul needs to ensure that any decisions or agreements that will be made are truthfully implemented under the supervision of Afghan or international observers. Thirdly, the Afghan government should not solely rely on foreign aid to the point that it is seen as favoring war in order to continue attracting international assistance.
RFE/RL: Why would the Taliban negotiate a peace deal with the Afghan government?
Muttawakil: I think every struggle has two major phases; struggle for a certain end and then working to preserve those achievements. I think reconciliation is needed in order to secure the results of the long struggle [the Taliban] have been engaged in. Waging an unending war does not solve everything.