The Afghan election commission has said that the Taliban can stand in the country's next presidential elections in 2014; a move that experts say can prove to be a double-edged sword for the war-torn nation.
Afghanistan's next presidential elections are scheduled for April 5, 2014 and are seen by most observers as one of the most crucial elections in Afghanistan's history, as they could either put the Afghan nation on the path of stability or plunge it into deeper turmoil.
Hamid Karzai, who is serving his second term as Afghanistan's president, is constitutionally barred from running for president for a third time, and there is no prominent or popular candidate in sight.
The elections can be detrimental for Afghanistan's future as the NATO-led international forces will withdraw from the country by June 2014 after spending more than a decade in Afghanistan combating Islamist militants, particularly the former Afghan rulers, the Taliban.
"We are even prepared to pave the ground for the armed opposition, be it the Taliban or Hezb-e-Islami (headed by militant Gulbuddin Hekmatyar), to participate in the election, either as voters or candidates," Fazil Ahmad Manawi, the head of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC), told the media. "There will be no discrimination," the IEC chief added.
The Taliban had boycotted the 2009 polls in which President Karzai was re-elected after defeating former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. The 2009 elections were marred by allegations of fraud, for which both national and international monitoring groups had criticized Karzai's government.
Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, told DW that the talk of inviting the Taliban to run in elections was nothing new and that the same offer had been made to the militants in 2009. The Taliban, he said, had not accepted the offer. Ruttig hoped that this time, the Taliban would consider it.
"I hope that the Taliban will realize that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict."
Ruttig added that Afghanistan was at the beginning of a long political process involving multiple stakeholders in the conflict, including the Afghan government, the US, and the Taliban.
The Afghan government and the US began their separate reconciliation efforts with the Taliban last year but they have not been successful so far. Ruttig believes that the Afghan government and the US needs a "clear strategy" to enter peace talks with Afghanistan's armed groups.
DW Afghan Service's Abdul Hakim Bari said that the Taliban would only be allowed to participate in elections if they agreed to some basic principles of the Afghan constitution which guaranteed respect for human rights. The Taliban, however, did not recognize the Afghan constitution.
"I do not think that this announcement [by the IEC] will help much in bringing the Taliban to mainstream Afghan politics," Bari said. "I am not optimistic that the Taliban will participate in elections or the peace process."
Bari believed that while some Taliban leaders might take part in elections, it was unlikely that the Taliban as a group or as an organization would do the same. He thought it more likely the militants would instead continue with their armed insurgency.