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The Taliban Reconciliation Conference
Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's deputy leader (right), addresses the opening ceremony of the intra-Afghan peace talks on Sept. 12, 2020 in Doha. (Shahid Khan)

The Taliban Reconciliation Conference

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, September 18

The State of Qatar recently hosted a reconciliation conference between the Afghan government and the Taliban, under American auspices. Many observers of Afghan politics were surprised to discover that the United States is directly negotiating with a designated terrorist organization like the Taliban. This raised a lively debate about the similarities and differences between the Taliban and other extremist groups with which the United States is not negotiating. The consensus stemming from this debate suggests that the Taliban differs from the rest of its extremist brethren for two main reasons. First, the Taliban government rose to power in direct response to the American presence in the country, and the US is perceived as the occupying, and thus accountable, force in Afghanistan. However, this explanation is not entirely convincing since the US could equally be considered an occupier in Iraq, yet it did not negotiate with al-Qaida or ISIS, two movements that grew in the country. This brings us to the second reason: that pertaining to the difference in the sociopolitical environment that gave rise to the Taliban. While al-Qaida and ISIS are closed extremist organizations that grew their power by forcefully taking over large concentrations of population, the Taliban is a widely-supported movement in Afghanistan. It enjoys public support from the Afghan public. Specifically, the Taliban forbids the killing of civilians not participating in fighting and most of its members belong to the Pashtun sect, which represents about 40% of Afghanistan’s population, corresponding to some 15 million people. The truth is that the national, tribal, and religious environment in which the Taliban is rooted has made it impossible to eradicate it. While extremist religious groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, or ISIS can be marginalized and eradicated, the Taliban is an integral part of Afghan society. Just as Turkey’s iron-fist policy did not succeed in eradicating Kurdish armed organizations, which enjoy the support of an entire nation, so, too, the United States cannot simply erase the Taliban. The challenges facing the Doha dialogues (which are exciting and deserve more attention) currently revolve around a US-Taliban prisoner exchange deal. Another point of contention is the identity of the Afghan state, with the Taliban insisting that it be Islamic, while the US is demanding more freedom for ostracized groups, including women. Only time will tell what these talks might lead to. – Amr Al-Shobaki (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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