The Taliban’s rejection of a call for an Eid truce by the Afghan loya jirga last week was good indication that despite American optimism, arriving at peace in Afghanistan is not going to be as quick or easy as the United States wants it to be.
The Grand Council of 3,200 Afghans was itself controversial. Left out of the US-Taliban talks, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called the loya jirga ostensibly to build consensus among the various tribal groups on discussions with the Taliban. The Taliban, however, are resolute that they will not enter into any dialogue with the elected Afghan government until after the US and other foreign troops have withdrawn from the country. And there is no guarantee that they will do so after the withdrawal. The Taliban openly called on the Afghans to boycott the loya jirga. Ghani’s political rivals, including chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, refused to attend the meeting for their own reasons. Packed as it was with Ghani loyalists, they saw the jirga as an attempt to boost his own political standing and stature ahead of the September 28 presidential elections. The meeting was hobbled by other difficulties, including that it was led by a former warlord associated with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Ghani lined the truce call to the Taliban with a sweetener, offering to release 175 Taliban prisoners. But the Taliban, who had observed a three-day ceasefire last Eid, are in no mood to indulge Ghani.
The US too made plain its disinterest in the loya jirga by holding another round of talks with the Taliban in the same week. US Special Representative Zalmay Khalizad has stressed that a deal requires agreement on “four inter-connected issues”, which are, a timetable for troop withdrawal, guarantees from the Taliban that no terrorist attacks will be launched against other countries, a dialogue between Taliban and the elected Afghan government, and a ceasefire. But he has also said that he wants to reach this deal before the presidential elections. With Ghani’s political opponents readying for a rumoured “interim government” under a peace agreement, there may be no elections. Ghani’s own legitimacy has been undermined with each passing day of the US-Taliban engagement. Both see Iran and India as potential trouble makers. Left out of the talks, in which Pakistan has played a significant role, Delhi has so far found it convenient to say it will back any agreement supported by the elected Afghan government. But the dilemma for Delhi is really how to deal with a post-US Afghanistan.