Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, November 28th, 2020

Political Rifts Likely to Slow Down Reaching Peace Agreement

The intra-Afghan dialogue, which yet to be started, will be detailed and controversial since there are many ifs and buts. The Afghan government currently has three bodies tasked with peace efforts: the High Peace Council, a semi-autonomous group created by former President Hamid Karzai, the State Ministry for Peace, headed by a former chief of staff to President Ashraf Ghani, and the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), which is led by Abdullah Abdullah. “The hierarchies, the makeups and agendas of these bodies is not entirely clear to the Afghan people. That could present a major challenge when sitting across from a more experienced and organized Taliban in Doha.” 
As President Ghani announced the new member list of the HCNR, some political figures, including Karzai, rejected their membership in the council, which indicates a disagreement between Afghan officials and political figures.
There also seems a gap between the Taliban political leadership and their military commanders as the leadership has formed a negotiating team to talk with the Afghan government but their fighters are widely involved in war and violence. Despite this fact, the Taliban negotiators are believed to have coordinated closely with their leadership council in Pakistan.
Reaching an agreement with the ongoing hurdles appears to be really hard. A breakdown in negotiations could deepen the civil war. There are many issues to be discussed at the table which include power-sharing arrangement, future political system, and protection of fundamental rights of all sections of the population. The result of the negotiations would largely depend on whether the Taliban are willing to accept a pluralistic political order or not.
In the intra-Afghan talks, “the first hurdle will appear right away. The government’s initial point of order will be declaring a nation-wide ceasefire, but the Taliban’s primary focus will be on the structure of a future Afghan government,” a source is cited as saying.
It seems that reaching a framework agreement or a political settlement will be a highly challenging issue. Consensus will not be easy on issues such as provisional power sharing, the Afghan constitution and human rights, and equally contentious matters relating to demobilization of Taliban forces and their reintegration.
Speaking on the day of Ashura, 10th of Muharram, President Ghani said that peace did not mean power-sharing political deal, but instead the fulfillment of the will of the Afghan people, which is to end violence and bloodshed in the country. Meanwhile, his second deputy Sarwar Danish reiterated the public support to the republic and called on the Taliban to be “honest in the peace process”. It indicates that preservation of the republic system versus Sharia law as well as power-sharing will be a bone of contention between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Moreover, Afghan officials and ordinary people have constantly called on the Taliban to reduce violence and declare ceasefire, this will be on the top list of the agenda of Afghan negotiating team. But the Taliban so far refused to do so.
Worst, a number of Afghan political figures, who do not back the government’s side, seek their self-interests in the talks. That is, they hunt for political positions in the future government. Karzai’s attitude towards talks with the Taliban is highly dubious. For instance, despite the government’s discontent, Karzai traveled to Russia, where he led a non-official delegation, to hold informal talks with the Taliban. However, as the government included him in the reconciliation council, he has rejected his membership. Such disagreements are likely to weaken the government’s stance and disrupt the intra-Afghan dialogue.
To present a united front and support the intra-Afghan talks, political figures have to end their disagreement and put their weight behind the government’s stance. They have to be sincere to their nation and stop seeking individual contacts or backdoor deals with the militant groups.
Afghans also doubt the genuine intention and constructive engagement of the neighboring states, mainly those of Iran and Pakistan, in the peace process. Subsequent to the invitation of the Taliban delegation to Islamabad – a day after announcing sanctions against the group – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan talked to Abdullah on the phone and invited him to Pakistan to discuss the Afghan peace issues. Afghan officials have always urged the neighboring states to engage constructively in the peace issues and reiterated their significant role. To support the regional stability, regional stakeholders have to pressure the Taliban to hold talks with the Kabul administration and reach an agreement.
Overall, Afghan officials and political figures have to build a national consensus and present a united front in the intra-Afghan talks. The negotiating sides have to come to the table with genuine intention and respect the demands and preconditions of the people of Afghanistan. Regional and international stakeholders have to play their role actively and constructively in the talks and press the Taliban to declare ceasefire.