Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

Will the Prisoners Swap Push the Peace Process Forward?

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Will the Prisoners Swap Push the  Peace Process Forward?

Three years ago, two professors of American University of Afghanistan were abducted from Kabul, capital city. Since then, many efforts have been made to release the professors but it has produced no positive outcome. Recently, they were swapped with three Taliban senior members, but caused some positive and negative reactions in national and international level. Most Afghan people including top politicians say that they should welcome any actions or decisions on condition it contributes to the peace process. Accordingly, we should be more show flexible so as to reach peace process which more important then everything. On the other hand, there are some analysts who are concerned about release of Taliban key members as they may return to fighting fronts and restart killing innocent people of Afghanistan. In fact, these concerns are rooted in inflexibility of Taliban against government and people of Afghanistan in past 18 years. The Afghan government and people have always been flexible against Taliban and repeatedly called them brothers, but they never retreated from their dogmatic positions. Therefore, some people are not optimistic about the exchange of prisoners adding it will promote the culture of impunity in the country.
In international level, the prisoners swap has warmly welcomed by NATO, the US and other alliance. The US officials admired the decision as helpful for trust building and reopening the door of negotiations. The U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo called the developments “hopeful signs that the Afghan war … may soon conclude through a political settlement.” The U.S. President Donald Trump also thanked President Ghani and termed it as a courageous action. He said in a twit” let’s hope this leads to more good things on the peace front like a ceasefire that will help end this long war”. More importantly, he invited president Ghani to Washington which has also accepted by the Afghan president.  Reportedly, Trump has also telephoned Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and thanked him for Islamabad’s efforts in facilitating the release of two Western hostages in Afghanistan.
Nearly two months ago, President Trump had aborted the US-Taliban peace talks due to attacks on US soldier in Kabul city. In addition, the presidential election of Afghanistan remains undecided which has also complicated peace efforts. Therefore, the decision makers wanted to revive the peace process hoping that the prisoners exchange could rebuild the trust between the parties and reopen the door of peace process. Meanwhile, it may also decline the role of regional actors who, somehow, activated to fill the vacuum in the absence of the U.S.-led talks and the connection between negotiations and the election.
According to President Ghani, the Afghan government has released the three high-level Taliban prisoners aiming to lead toward direct talks between Taliban and Afghan government. He has called the cease-fire as a precondition to direct talks. The Taliban have said they will not talk to the government without completion of an agreement on US troop’s withdrawal with the United States. Action on one if not both points are the likely key to moving forward to direct intra-Afghan negotiations. The U.S.-Taliban negotiations remain suspended, and high-profile Taliban attacks have continued even after the prisoner release was first announced, making quick progress uncertain.
Another avenue to direct talks would be to restart a series of dialogues between the Taliban and a cross section of Afghan political and civil society representatives, which have taken place in Moscow and Doha. The prisoner exchange may be helpful in building enough confidence in the good faith of the parties to get dialogues back on track (although the next dialogue planned to take place in Beijing has been postponed). Last week’s suicide attacks in Kabul will make negotiations less likely—although it is unclear if the Taliban, or other spoilers who do not want peace, carried out the attack.
President Ghani’s agreement to release the senior Taliban members may also aimed to use time and military pressure to erode the Taliban’s strength and get to a more favorable climate for the government to enter negotiations. Holding a presidential election before talks begin was part of that strategy—assuming that the result, which is still unclear, will be legitimate and convey a renewed popular mandate to the government’s negotiating position. The problem has been that the U.S. timeline to reach a framework for a political settlement is faster than the Afghan government would like. Tensions between the two parts have caused confusion over who should appear at dialogues and negotiations and when they should occur.
All of these efforts are designed to build understanding between the opposing sides of the conflict to enable official talks about a political settlement to the war. Russia and China have similar aims to the U.S. in Afghanistan: an end to violence and instability in the region and a managed exit of U.S. troops. But neither Russia nor China has significant leverage to push the Afghan sides toward a deal. Only the U.S. has the troops and money that can make a big difference to both the government and Taliban to get them to make major concessions necessary for peace.
As aforementioned, the presidential election is also a divisive and complicating factor for peace.  The two leading candidates are Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who together have led the National Unity Government and both leaders agree on the need for peace and want to preserve the current democratic constitutional system, they disagree on several fundamental issues about how Afghan democracy should be run.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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