Neither the Taliban nor the government in Kabul is in a position to win the war in Afghanistan. But a peace deal between the two would damage the already delicate rule of law in the country, says DW's Florian Weigand.
A young couple was flogged by the Taliban for wanting to run away; another young man was stoned to death for allegedly committing adultery; 35 people were killed in three attacks in the capital Kabul as well as in other parts of the country; dozens of Afghans were kidnapped after the bus they were traveling in was intercepted — this horrific series of attacks and atrocities took place in the last week alone.
But it was not an unusual week and, in fact, this violence characterizes the war-ravaged nation's recent past. That's why over 18,000 Afghans have already fled their homes in 2018 — around 380 civilians flee every day in a bid to escape a bloody conflict that is now in its 17th year.
Facing this brutal reality, nobody has wanted to contradict Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has so far branded the Taliban as terrorists. Until now, the Afghan leader has offered talks only to those who would lay down their weapons. But Ghani seemed to make an about-face at Wednesday's peace conference in Kabul, saying that he wants to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban "without preconditions," and promising to recognize the militant group as a "political party." Furthermore, the president dangled the prospect of releasing imprisoned Taliban fighters, and even a "review” of the Afghan constitution is no longer excluded.
This U-turn seems surprising only at first glance.
Both the Afghan government and the Taliban have been under immense pressure in recent months. Despite robust military support, particularly from the United States, Afghan security forces have been steadily losing territory to the militant group.
The self-proclaimed "holy warriors," on the other hand, have been afraid of losing Pakistani support, as the US has increasingly pressured Islamabad to take action against the militants operating from Pakistani soil. Washington wants Pakistan to openly distance itself from its alleged proteges and actively counteract any assistance they receive. For now, it looks like none of the parties can claim victory in this war. And that gives a chance for finding peace.
The Taliban have realized that the key to resolve this situation lies in the US . They, therefore, do not want to negotiate with Kabul, but rather with Washington. But since the Americans will get the Kabul government on board, it is only a matter of time before they come to direct negotiations.
The German Special Representative for Afghanistan and former ambassador to Kabul, Markus Potzel, has already proposed holding a third Afghanistan conference in Bonn, Germany, following the meetings in 2001 and 2011.
A peace deal could therefore come within reach. But is the international community willing to pay the price?
If the Taliban were to play a defining role in a post-war order, then the West would have to abandon most of the goals it had set for the country's political and socioeconomic development.
The account of atrocities in the past week that were described above should make it clear to everyone about what the Taliban imagine as a just society.
It's nothing but an illusion that today's Taliban are different from their predecessors in the pre-9/11 era. This fact presents the liberal world with an impossible task.
How would governments in Europe, the United Nations and international aid agencies justify to their constituents, taxpayers and donors that development aid should continue to a country that has the Taliban as an officially legitimized (government) partner?
Not to mention a continuation of the military commitment, although this probably remains necessary because of the new threat posed by the so-called "Islamic State" jihadist group. A peace agreement with the Taliban raises more questions than it answers.