US envoy Khalilzad acts as the icebreaker with Taliban
A rainbow of optimism has become visible in the Afghan horizon with the representatives of hitherto mutually warring sides agreeing to ink a permanent and durable ceasefire in order to terminate the 18-year-long fiercely-armed confrontation in Afghanistan at the intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha, Qatar's capital. A permanent cease-fire means a Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for attacks in other countries as a step toward a political settlement through inter-Afghan dialogue.
The July 7-8 dialogue was organised by Qatar and Germany and is seen as an icebreaker that could lead to direct negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders. Pakistan, it must be noted, helped facilitate peace talks between Washington and the Taliban.
For the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the controversial Afghan-American diplomat, picked by the US President Donald Trump amid considerable resentment in the USA, it's a breakthrough, unless the shadow of an uncertainly elongates. Proving irreversible pessimists and many foreign policy analysts who paint Khalilzad as the 'man who lost Afghanistan', Trump's emissary proved once again his exceptional diplomatic talent by sending the ball to the court of the warring sides who face the ordeal on whether they are truly close to the hearts of the war-stricken thousands. They also agreed to reduce violence by halting attacks on "religious centers, schools, hospitals, educational centers, bazaars, water dams, and workplaces". Khalilzad, in an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan on July 7 at the conclusion of the first day of dialogue termed it as "most productive". The Taliban said it is "happy with the progress".
The reasons for hope are several, but the most significant is the first face-to-face meeting of Afghan government officials and 17 Taliban representatives who until recently refused to meet with any members of Afghanistan's government directly and despised them as "Western puppets". The Kabul officials traveled to the Doha in a personal rather than official capacity.
Afghans, in general, apart from former President Hamid Karzai, welcomed the move and expressed optimism. "I welcome the positive results of the Afghan peace meeting in Doha. The return of peace to Afghanistan is only possible when the Afghans decide their future through the intra-Afghan dialogue," stated Nader Nadery, chairman, Independent Administrative Reform & Civil Service Commission, Senior Advisor to the President, Human Rights Commissioner, Global Future Councils, World Economic Forum, who tweeted: "Thread on Intra-Afghan Dialogue: The intra-Afghan dialogue concluded now. It was an important platform for our people to voice their grievances, concerns, and aspirations. Taliban heard many stories of pains and destruction, echoed by majority of the participants".
Seventeen members of the Taliban Movement aside, around 60 delegates from Kabul took part in the crucial negotiations. Consensus arrived at in the form of a resolution prepared by a committee of six members from Kabul and three members from the Taliban. The main points agreed upon through a resolution are:
Consensus on all-inclusive Afghan negotiations;
All Afghans are committed to a united and Islamic country, putting aside all ethnic differences;
Afghanistan shall not witness another war: the international community, regional and internal elements shall respect Afghans' values accordingly;
In order to facilitate effective intra-Afghan talks, the warring parties should avoid threats, revenge and conflicting words, and shall use soft words;
The Doha peace conference participants strongly support the ongoing peace talks in Doha and believe that effective and positive outcome from the talks will benefit Afghanistan;
Steps should be taken to build a trusted environment for peace and keep the nation safe from the war and its consequences.
Additional concurrence include unconditional release of elder, disabled and ill inmates, ensuring the safety of public institutions including schools, madras's, hospitals, markets, water dams, and workplaces, respect educational institutions, respect and protect the dignity of the people, their life and property and minimise civilian casualties to zero, assuring that women's rights are ensured in political, social, economic, educational and cultural areas within the framework of Islamic values, agreeing on a roadmap for peace based on the following conditions, institutionalising Islamic system in the country, reforms, and support of basic institutions, defence and other institutions which are belonged to Afghans, repatriation of migrants and return of internally displaced persons (IDPs), support and assistance from donor countries for peace agreement based on the new cooperation and relations, insist during international conferences regarding the assurance of Afghanistan's peace agreement and assurance on zero interference from neighboring and regional countries in Afghanistan's affairs.
In Pashto, the main language of most Taliban, the text included references to the withdrawal of foreign troops as part of the road map. But it did not include any reference to guarantees for women's rights, which the Taliban are ideologically opposed to. But the English text, the Dari version of the resolution included references to guaranteeing women's rights. But it is evasive about the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
But until the peace plan is effectively translated into reality, stakeholders have to prepare for the worst. The external irritant is the Iran factor. Khalilzad admitted that the danger from escalating tensions between the USA and Iran could impact the Afghan peace process. "We have told Iran that we don't want the issues we have with them to have a negative impact on peace in Afghanistan. But the threat of this remains," he observed.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)