“Motion signals” in Afghan peace process

Monday, 2020-03-30 17:13:11
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NDO - It seems that the “ultimatum” set for Afghanistan by the US has worked, as the Kabul government recently announced the establishment of a direct negotiation delegation with the Taliban, following its plan to release militants.

These moves mean that Afghanistan’s “peace process” can be kick-started, facilitating the US withdrawal of troops from the South Asian battlefield.

The latest positive news from Kabul is the plan to form an official team to negotiate with the Taliban. As announced by the Afghan State Ministry of Peace on March 28, a 21-member government team for Taliban talks will be selected after comprehensive discussions and consultations with representatives of civil society. In particular, political parties are being tasked with representing the Afghan State in peace talks with rebel forces. This is the result of the Afghan government’s efforts to hold online discussions last week, aiming to prepare the necessary facilities and conditions to start the national dialogue towards direct negotiations between representatives of the Kabul government and the Taliban.

Just days earlier, in an effort to enforce the terms of a deal between the US and the Taliban to pave the way for Afghanistan’s internal peace talks, President Ashraf Ghani’s administration announced a plan to release Taliban gunmen. According to a source from government officials, the process is expected to start “within the next week.” The Taliban representative also confirmed the information, and stated that it would soon send a “working group” to the Bagram detention centre where many Taliban members are being held.

The aforementioned plans were announced by Kabul after the White House issued an “ultimatum”. Disappointed by the power struggle that has caused a deadlock in the Afghan peace process, the US decided to immediately reduce US$1 billion in its 2020 aid for Kabul and threatened to cut the same amount next year. The decision was put forward right after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Afghanistan last weekend, during which the US negotiator failed to bring Afghan President Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah to the negotiating table. Earlier, disapproving of his second-place finish in the newly announced election results, Abdullah held a swearing-in ceremony, in parallel with the oath-taking ceremony of President-elect Ashraf Ghani.

Persistent disagreement among political rivals in Afghanistan is the direct reason for the “ultimatum” that Washington delivered to Kabul. US Secretary of State Pompeo said the power dispute in Kabul would damage US-Afghanistan relations, while discrediting Washington and partners in the international alliance which is helping to build a “new future” for Afghanistan. Despite the failure in the reconciliation efforts, the US still left the door open, as Pompeo announced that he would not give up efforts to persuade the parties in Afghanistan to achieve the goals of peace and reconciliation.

On February 29, the US and the Taliban signed a “historic agreement” under which Washington will withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan, ending the longest overseas military intervention campaign in US history. The deal also paves the way for peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, guaranteeing sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the South Asian country. One important provision guaranteed by the US is that the Kabul government releases 5,000 Taliban militants in exchange for the release of 1,000 people detained by the force.

Kabul’s announcement of the prisoner release plan is said to be positive, showing an adjustment in the view of President Ghani, who once rejected the Taliban’s demand of considering the release of militants as a “prerequisite” to start negotiations with the government. The announcement on the establishment of an official negotiating team also demonstrated Kabul’s goodwill to soon kick-start an internal dialogue aimed at terminating the conflict that has lasted nearly 20 years.

However, the conflict between the pair of political rivals has not been resolved, which could possibly put Afghanistan into a situation of “parallel governments” and create a major obstacle for Kabul’s process of forming a unified negotiation group. Therefore, it is urgent that the parties in Afghanistan take advantage of the opportunity to quickly turn the newly created“motion signals” into concrete steps.