Afghans in limbo ahead of Independence Day amid concerns over election, US-Taliban talks

Sputnik News Agency Kabul, Afghanistan Aug 17, 2019, 09.28 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

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On Monday, the Taliban and the United States finished the eighth round of peace talks in Doha.

Uncertainty in war-ravaged Afghanistan has been on the rise as neither the nearing presidential election nor the ongoing US-Taliban talks have so far shown much promise for lasting peace being anywhere near, as the country is set to celebrate the centennial of independence next week.

On Monday, the Taliban and the United States finished the eighth round of peace talks in Doha. Though the sides have been negotiating a peace deal since last year, no major breakthrough has been reached so far, despite regular claims of the Taliban and Washington about significant progress.

On Friday, President Donald Trump, who promises his electorate to continue US troop drawdown in Afghanistan, even held a meeting with top security advisers and cabinet officials to review efforts with regard to the peace process in the conflict-torn country. The White House then said that the meeting "went very well," and negotiations are proceeding.

Trump later concluded that "many on the opposite side of this 19-year war, and us, are looking to make a deal – if possible."

Watch: US Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad meets S Jaishankar

Amid the uncertainty over the US-Taliban talks, from which the Afghan government is excluded, the Islamic republic, meanwhile, gears up for the presidential election.

Electoral concerns

With almost a month remaining before the September 28 vote, the confrontation between the Taliban and the government shows no signs of abating. The Taliban have threatened to disrupt the election with all their force, while the government has vowed to safeguard the process.

"We want to put an end to the hopelessness and violence in the country. In peace, there is no winner or loser, the winner is Afghan children, women, older, Ulema [Islamic clerics] and all residents," Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a Saturday campaign speech.

The ongoing US-Taliban peace talks, however, exclude the Afghan government, which the Taliban consider a US puppet. The issue of future governance, meanwhile, is obviously a core matter in these talks. The Taliban have said they want an Islamic type of government in Afghanistan named the Islamic Emirate, while the government wants it to remain a republic.

"We won’t let the black days come back, we want to go toward lightness, if they [Taliban] want to be part of the republic we welcome them otherwise we won’t allow the black days to come again, they have to accept election in last, but we won’t let them destroy our [future] generations," Ghani promised on Saturday.

Speaking at a press conference the same day, Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi reiterated that "any peace agreement with the Taliban should mark the end of violence in Afghanistan," and guarantee that it will not be a safe haven for terrorists in the future.

He also said that Kabul would enter "crucial rounds of negotiations after the Taliban issue ceasefire."

Experts, meanwhile, doubt that any real peace process is possible without Kabul-Taliban direct talks.

"Peace process doesn’t make sense neither it will end the fighting until the government and the Taliban sit across each other and discuss the differences and the problems they have," Atiqullah Amarkhil, a prominent Afghan analyst and veteran army general, said.

Afghans not very enthusiastic

The growing uncertainty around the looming election and another round of the US-Taliban talks comes as Afghanistan is set to celebrate the centennial of its independence from the UK rule.

Despite the difficult security situation and Taliban threats, streets are decorated with flags and billboards.

"The centenary comes as we carry fear of death when we come out of home to work, we don’t know even we will make it back or not, but these all fashioned preparations doesn’t make sense while the bloodshed is ongoing," Kabul resident Ahmad Fahim, 35, told sputnik.

Kabul, a city with 5 million of pollution, is indeed the target of most bombings that have recently hit the country and caused massive civilian casualties. The capital has been under threat even during religious holidays and elections.

"The war is unfolding, neither I nor my family has registered to vote, we know this won’t work. We don’t know if an election is gonna happen first or peace, but peace is what each and every Afghan want," Khalid Mayar, a 27-year-old Kabul resident, told Sputnik.