Tadamichi Yamamoto is the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.
The Afghan government and the forces of the Taliban have announced that they will each observe a cease-fire over the Muslim Eid holiday this coming weekend. This action is unprecedented in the past 17 years of war.
Both sides are tacitly recognizing the growing popular expressions of frustration with the unending war. Earlier this year Afghans erected “peace tents” near the sites of horrific attacks and have nearly completed a 435-mile march for peace across the country’s arid and war-torn southeast. Given this background, the simultaneous cease-fires could provide an opportunity for the main protagonists of this conflict to begin seeking a negotiated solution to their differences.
After several years of trying to support peace as the U.N. secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, I strongly believe that the elements of a potential deal are now discernible through the haze and dust of war. Both sides want an Islamic government. Both agree that the state should be governed by a constitution. Both agree that Afghanistan should neither be a haven for global terrorists nor a threat to its neighbors.
Cessations of hostilities — even if temporary — are the initial building blocks of peace. Having signaled a willingness to set aside arms, Taliban leaders have made a move, albeit undeclared, toward defining their political interests in a future Afghanistan. At the same time, the government must consider creating a new and inclusive national environment to incorporate the Taliban, thus opening a window for the group’s eventual entry into the realm of national politics.
Sticky questions of recognition cannot be dismissed. Members of the Taliban do not see the Afghan government as legitimate. They view it instead as beholden to the international community that helped to shape it at the Bonn Conference in 2001 and continues to support it. The Taliban insists on speaking directly to the United States, which it says is still calling the shots in Afghanistan. The current national unity government in Kabul, for its part, has sought to prevent any engagement with the Taliban that would appear to justify the militant movement’s claim to be an “emirate,” that is, a government. Because