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The (Very) Long Road Towards a Peace Process in Afghanistan

BLOG - 10 July 2019

During an intra-Afghan dialogue, facilitated by Germany and Qatar, Afghan officials came to an agreement on 9th July, on a road map to peace with the Taliban. The dialogue took place in Doha last weekend (7-9th July), parallel to talks between Taliban representatives and U.S. diplomats. In a joint agreement, the Taliban agreed to reduce the violence in Afghanistan and assured to give women rights "in political, social, economic, educational and cultural affairs in the context of Islamic values". 

Meanwhile, the Taliban continue to carry out attacks throughout the country. A recent attack, a multifaceted strike in Kabul on 1st July, killed around 40 people and injured more than 100. The United Nations reported more than 5,200 security-related incidents between February and May 2019 alone, a 7% increase from the same period in 2018. 

Until the meeting in Doha the Taliban had refused to negotiate directly with the internationally recognized government in Kabul. A previous meeting scheduled last month was canceled due to a dispute over the number of participants and their official capacity. Therefore, the Afghan officials had traveled to Doha last weekend in their personal capacity to meet the Taliban. The intra-Afghan dialogue was the first of such a meeting even though there have been similar ones before in the frame of meetings that took place in Moscow. Among others, Taliban representatives, as well as officials from the previous Afghan government under Hamid Karzai, were sitting in one room. The Doha meeting, however, was the first to take place only among Afghans (with the exception of one German mediator of the Berghof Foundation). 

This positive outcome could also help push forward the talks between American diplomats and the Taliban.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had offered the Taliban unconditional peace talks and the possibility of political recognition [...]. It was the first time a government in Kabul has made such an offer to the Taliban, however, the Taliban had still refused any talks.

Previously, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had offered the Taliban unconditional peace talks and the possibility of political recognition (during the second meeting of the Kabul process on 28th February, 2018). It was the first time a government in Kabul has made such an offer to the Taliban, however, the Taliban had still refused any talks. There have also been several attempts to initiate a political process in Afghanistan. China has actively participated to create an Afghan peace process, and has been holding talks in Islamabad since early 2016 along with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the U.S., within the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG). The QCG has been stalled, however, after Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a drone strike in May 2016.

In April 2017, Moscow launched a regional meeting on Afghanistan involving the Central Asian states too. The so-called Moscow format includes Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Russia launched this format to consult on security prospects in Afghanistan in particular issued an appeal to the Taliban to abandon the use of force to resolve the internal Afghan conflict and to engage in a direct dialogue with the government Kabul. Meanwhile, the European Union or any of its member states have not participated in the different existing formats despite supporting such efforts. This is illustrated in the case of the Kabul Process for Peace and Development, established in June 2017 as an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned inclusive peace process.

During these various attempts to initiate a peace process in Afghanistan, it became increasingly apparent that there would be no agreement without the U.S. - the largest troop provider in the country. At the same time there was an urgent need for Afghans to decide the kind of future state they want to have, i.e. an Afghan reconciliation process and conditionality. 

The current breakthrough happened therefore due to a combination of efforts and attitude change.

Firstly, a change in the United States’ attitude. After 18 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. has become impatient to withdraw the remaining 14,000 U.S. troops and therefore aims to reach an agreement with the Taliban by 1st September (prior to Afghanistan’s elections). U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad’s visit to Kabul last summer marked a change in the U.S.’ course of action to be willing to negotiate with the Taliban directly, and no longer insisting that the Taliban should first solely negotiate with the government in Kabul. The visit had initiated direct talks with the Taliban.

An agreement includes the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops while in return the Taliban would provide security guarantees for a post-withdrawal Afghanistan, meaning committing to not provide a base for terrorists. So far, Khalilzad has met seven times with the Taliban, and in March a draft agreement had been reached. However, there are still outstanding issues to be negotiated. Key conditions for an agreement include a ceasefire (demanded by the U.S.), amid continued and heavy violence in the country, and a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. But, according to Khalilzad, "The last 6 days of talks have been the most productive session to date. We made substantive progress on ALL 4 parts of a peace agreement: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, participation in intra-Afghan dialogue & negotiations, and permanent & comprehensive ceasefire."

The priority for international stakeholders is therefore to support the intra-Afghan dialogue and to be prepared that it may take years to come to a binding agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Secondly, the efforts of countries such as Germany (or Indonesia for instance) to push for an intra-Afghan peace process. Germany, as the largest provider of troops (currently 1,225) and aid of all EU member states (and second-largest after the U.S.), has been talking to the Taliban as well as the Afghan government in an effort to initiate the peace talks. The possibility to hold future meetings in Germany is no longer fiction. 

The agreement between the Taliban and Afghan officials is only a basic step towards peace in Afghanistan. Since the recent agreement is non-binding, it can only be seen as the beginning of a meaningful process. The biggest challenge that remains is to agree on the future political order and constitution and how much role Islam will be given. For instance, how will issues such as women’s rights "in the contexts of Islamic values" be interpreted? 

The priority for international stakeholders is therefore to support the intra-Afghan dialogue and to be prepared that it may take years to come to a binding agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. This appears to be a task for Europeans in particular. The Trump-administration’s overall strategic and political objective and the core of its engagement in all these years have been much more focused on counter-terrorism than state and peace building. This is even truer for other major players, such as China and Russia. It must therefore be imperative for the European Union and its member states, with Germany leading the way, to strengthen the civilian component so that all parties, in particular the Taliban, continue to work towards peace and reconciliation.

Copyright : KARIM JAAFAR / AFP

 

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