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Afghan Peace Talks Stalled Over Rules To Refer To When Sides Reach A Deadlock

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Afghan peace talks began back on Sept. 12, but they have been stalled for weeks now over a Taliban demand that has put many Afghans on edge. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Only days into the negotiations, the Taliban and Afghan government hit an impasse. Andrew Watkins is a senior researcher with the International Crisis Group.

ANDREW WATKINS: Ironically, the two sides have reached a deadlock about what set of rules to refer to when they reach a deadlock.

HADID: Yes, the Taliban asked that a specific version of Islamic law be used to resolve any conflict that arises during the talks. It's a version of Islamic law that's followed by most Afghan Sunni Muslims, and it's called the Hanafi school. But government negotiators argue this form of Islamic law excludes Shiites, and they're a large minority in Afghanistan. This early hurdle has exposed a key issue that negotiators have to resolve. What is the future identity of the Afghan state? Elizabeth Threlkeld is a senior fellow and the South Asia deputy director at the Washington-based Stimson Center.

ELIZABETH THRELKELD: This is a debate about whose views are represented and included in the future Afghan states and, specifically, how the rights of minority groups will be protected.

HADID: And already, it sparked fears among Afghans that the Taliban want to go back to the days of their rule in the '90s, when they persecuted Shiites. This is Mehdi Hakimi. He's an expert on Afghan law and the executive director of the Rule of Law program at Stanford Law School. He says the Taliban's demand...

MEHDI HAKIMI: ...Is unfortunately eerily similar to the language and ideology behind the persecution and even massacres of religious and ethnic minorities in Afghanistan in the past.

HADID: A senior Taliban official who isn't authorized to speak to the media insists that Shiites will be able to live by their own rules. But for these negotiations, they have to use this specific form of Islamic law. Andrew Watkins of the Crisis Group says this shows the Taliban don't really understand how Afghans perceive them after decades of war. But he adds...

WATKINS: It is a good thing that both sides are confronted very early on with just how concerned or fearful the other side is.

HADID: He says it's also a good reminder to the negotiators and their backers that every step of the talks is likely to be this way.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.