Matt Waldman writes: We should welcome the news that the Taliban are reportedly open to the idea of negotiating a general ceasefire and even a peace settlement. The peace process in Afghanistan is at risk from spoilers on all sides and fraught with challenges. But we owe it to the Afghan people, and to all those who have suffered in the conflict, to give it a try.
It would be a grave mistake to assume the Taliban would only settle for absolute power. Taliban leaders know they stand no chance of seizing power now or in the near future. They know that even coming close would reinvigorate and potentially augment the coalition of forces ranged against them. That could trigger a civil war, which they are anxious to avoid. Even if they could seize power, they would be pounded by drones, ostracised and dependent on Pakistan. The leadership craves the opposite: safety, recognition and independence.
The Taliban rose to power in the 1990s, promising to bring order in place of turmoil. But since 2001, the expectations of ordinary Afghans have changed. They not only want order and justice but reliable public services, basic freedoms and a say over their own affairs. Antediluvian theocracy has had its day, and thinking Talibs know it.
The Arab awakening has not gone unheeded. A Taliban think-piece leaked last year asked what kind of elections they should support and how the government should meet the people’s needs. They yearn to be taken seriously as a credible, national political force. [Continue reading…]