Representatives from the Afghan government and the Taliban attended an international conference in Norway this week. 150 people gathered in a small town outside Oslo to discuss different ways to end conflict. While there was no plan for formal peace talks between the two factions, the very fact that they were attending the same meeting was a step in the right direction. As Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende put it, ‘if you are going to reach peace than those who disagree must talk together.’
This is not the first time Norway has tried to encourage cooperation and communication between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Earlier this month, delegates from both sides took part in informal talks about women’s rights and education for girls; this on top of other informal meetings between the Taliban and the Afghan government in different parts of the Gulf. Even though none of these encounters can be characterised as peace talks, the fact that they are meeting on such a regular basis indicates a willingness to move to official negotiations in the future.
There are several reasons for Taliban agreement to these informal talks. First, Pakistan, which has been an important supporter of the Taliban, has put increasing pressure on the group. One reason for this being that China is worried about the overspill of militancy in the region into western China. China has put pressure on Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to become more open to the possibility of peace negotiations. Last but by no means least, there is reason to believe that the Taliban finds the new government in Afghanistan easier to communicate with than the old Karzai administration.
It is difficult to predict whether 2015 will see the start of any official peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Taliban’s continued use of violence suggests otherwise. That the two factions have had increased communication over recent months is a positive development. But in order for peace negotiations to take place and be successful both parties must be completely committed, and the current situation on the ground suggests that this might not be the case.