Afghans harbored tentative hopes on Sunday that talks between the U.S. and Taliban leaders could end decades of conflict, despite fears an American withdrawal might unleash even more violence.
American negotiators and the Taliban said on Saturday the two sides had made substantial progress in the most recent round of talks in Qatar, promising to meet again to continue seeking a deal that could pave the way for official peace negotiations. The length and apparent progress in the ongoing talks are unprecedented, signaling that both Washington and the Taliban might see a path forward.
Hopes were rising on Twitter. “We r feeling the breeze of #peace coming,” tweeted Afghan user Haris Sherzad.
Civilians in Kabul, who have paid a disproportionate price in casualties since the U.S. invasion of 2001, were more cautious. “I don’t believe the Taliban will make peace,” said Kabul resident Rajab Ali. “But if we have peace it will be so great. There is nothing better than peace,” he added.
The goal of the talks is ostensibly to find a way to bring the Taliban to the table for official peace negotiations with Kabul. However the militants steadfastly refuse to engage with the government, which has yet to release any statement on the talks after complaining of being cut out of the process.
Meanwhile the U.S. has expressed a clear desire to end its longest war.
“This will be a peace between the Taliban and U.S., not the people of Afghanistan,” wrote Facebook user Jamshid Ayoubi. “We will be left alone to the mercy of extremists once again.”
Kabul residents said a deal between the militants and the government was vital to bringing an end to 17 years of bloodshed. “It will never be stable if Taliban and the government keep fighting each other and killing Afghans,” said resident Sharbatullah.
The Taliban are widely believed to want to return to power and re-impose their own strict interpretation of sharia law. They have shown no interest in sharing power with the current government in Kabul, and already have the upper hand on the battlefield, where Afghan forces are taking what experts have described as “unsustainable” losses.
Earlier this week President Ashraf Ghani revealed that some 45,000 Afghan security forces have been killed since he took power in September 2014—a staggering rate of more than 28 every day.
If Washington exits before a peace deal is in place there are fears the already-plummeting morale of Afghan security forces will shatter and that they will break along ethnic lines, igniting a full-scale civil war or even usher in a new era of Taliban rule.
“A hasty withdrawal of foreign troops will be interpreted as a victory for the Taliban and other religious extremists across the region,” warned one Facebook user, Hamed Haidari. “Time for us to leave this country. You will see extremists flood the country once again.”
“Darker days await Afghanistan,” wrote user Ashraf Sultani. “Once the U.S. is out, the Taliban will issue a fatwa for continuation of their war, and the country will plunge into another bloody civil war again.”