Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, April 4th, 2020

Intra-Afghan Talks Likely to be Tough and Contentious

The intra-Afghan dialogue was not ushered in, as scheduled in the US-Taliban peace agreement, in the wake of controversies between the Taliban and the Afghan government and escalation of violence. Afghans have their own preconditions and are unlikely to support the talks “at any cost” as Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani reiterated.
After the peace deal signed between the Taliban and the United States in the Qatari capital Doha on late February, the Taliban resumed their militancy. Few days later, the US drone carried out attacks on the Taliban in Helmand province, the first attack after the peace deal. On the other hand, Ghani denied to release the Taliban prisoners. Thus, Taliban’s escalation of violence and Ghani’s refusal to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners seem to be the main reasons behind the postponement of the intra-Afghan dialogue.
Meanwhile, the political standoff, as Ghani was inaugurated for a second term but his main political rival Abdullah Abdullah also organized a parallel swearing-in ceremony, will weaken Kabul’s position during the talks with the Taliban.
In his recent remarks Ghani has gestured positively to the prisoner releases to move the peace process forward. However, there seems to be many obstacles before the intra-Afghan talks.
Afghan women are particularly worried what will happen if the Taliban regain power since uncertainly surrounds the intra-Afghan talks. Fawzia Koofi, a former parliamentarian and women’s rights activist, said with a sense of concern that the intra-Afghan dialogue would be detailed and tough. She said that the US-Taliban peace deal would be the start of another process and not necessarily lead to peace. Airing her view about the women’s rights, she said that it would a highly sensitive issue in the upcoming talks between the Taliban and the Kabul administration.
Koofi pointed out that republicanism, amendment in constitution, and women’s rights and citizens’ rights as well as freedom of expressions, were likely to be the main controversial issues in the intra-Afghan talks.
Asked about her general picture about the Taliban, Koofi, who had face-to-face informal talks with the Taliban as an Afghan delegate in Moscow and Qatar, said that the Taliban’s negotiating teams held different ideas with those of their rank and file in Afghanistan. That is to say, the issue of women’s rights would be the main disagreement between the Taliban leadership and their rank and file, Koofi added.
What is further upsetting for Afghan people is that the US military has reportedly begun its reduction of forces to 8,600 within 135 days and complete withdrawal within 14 months in line with the agreement.
Many believe that the most controversial issues could be “to abide by Afghan Constitution” and “the return of Islamic Emirate” a pair of conflicting demands determining the future framework of Afghan politics and being directly interlinked with political position and prospects of each side. Afghanistan would hardly quit its democratic constitution, as it is of vital importance for its own survival. Taliban in turn could ill-afford quitting the “restoration of Islamic Emirate” a “divine” objective it has struggled for years, because this could be a price unbearable for itself considering the possible loss of popularity among conservative forces, and the nightmare scenario of disbandment of itself.
In the meantime, the political bickering will create more obstacles before the talks and formation of an all-inclusive negotiating team to talk with the Taliban. Sidelining Abdullah in the talks will not bode well and many fear that the continuation of political disagreement between Abdullah and Ghani will imperil national security and interests.
Afghan officials and political leaders have to create the conditions conducive to intra-Afghan dialogue through forming an inclusive negotiating team. The parallel government, which has compounded the public concerns, will not only increase the fragility of the talks but also compound the mistrust between Afghan people and political leaders. To this end, the government and political leaders have to narrow down the gap between state and nation, created within the past five years in the wake of growing distrust and rivalries between officials and political leaders.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have to moderate their views regarding democratic principles and women’s rights. They have to note that Afghans will not support the talks “at any cost” but have their conditions, which include respecting the current constitution, women’s rights, democratic principles, and past achievements. In short, Afghan nation and state have their “red-line” not to be compromised at the negotiating table.
If the involved parties to the talks do not narrow down their demands and come to the table with genuine intention, the intra-Afghan dialogue will be really tough and controversial.