Seven rounds of Doha peace process

‘Spectacular progress’ for US-Taliban ‘political deal’

MM Ali
Will the intra-Afghan peace summit of July 7-8 accelerate the process of reconciliation amongst various warring factions and help strike out a comprehensive peace agreement with the Taliban? Will there be an agreement among all parties before September 1, as hoped by Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State?
It will be interesting to observe how the peace process in Afghanistan – an area, where for decades, super powers have been testing their military might and fire power while regional powers through proxies remained engaged for supremacy – brings normalcy in the lives of ordinary Afghans, generates cross border economic activities instead of cross border terrorism and drug trafficking.
Did not land locked Afghanistan that connects Russia on one side through the Central Asian Republics, while on the other sides by China, the Persian Gulf through Iran and the Subcontinent through Pakistan occupy centre stage when crucial developments of the late 80s and early 90s introduced a unipolar power regime at the global level changing the erstwhile structure of bi-polar world?
Will restoration of peace in Afghanistan- an area, phenomenal to the rise and fall of global power– mark some change in the global power regime?
Urgency for peace in Afghanistan
But the scanty information regarding the progress of the peace process, speak in volumes about the caution being adopted during the course of negotiations.
‘American and Taliban officials have remained extremely tight-lipped about what the sticking points are, with some specifying only that they are trying to iron out details related to the withdrawal of American forces,’ wrote the New York Times on July 6 last, regarding the Afghan peace negotiations, that has entered into its seventh round since it began at the end of 2018.
‘The diplomats are moving with a sense of urgency not only because the human toll of the war continues to escalate by the day, but also because an Afghan presidential election is looming and it could complicate the negotiations,’ the newspaper added.
The 4-points of agreement
The agreements will seek guarantees that Afghanistan – the stage of the Great Game between Russian and British empires in the 19th century, having witnessed Soviet invasion in the last leg of 20th century and experiencing the longest running war under a monolithic super power since the beginning of the 21st century – will not again harbour terrorists planning international attacks.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Washington’s peace envoy, Afghan born, Zalmay Khalilzad have both said the final accord will include not only agreements with the Taliban on troop withdrawal and guarantees of a non-threatening Afghanistan, but also agreements on intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent cease fire.
The US-Taliban deal
Global media reported that powerful Afghans linked with the government and civil society group including women held talks with the Taliban for two days on Sunday and Monday in Doha, where a possible ceasefire is on the table along with key issues such as women’s rights.
Stakes are high for the talks which follow a week of U.S.-Taliban negotiations for seventh round with both sides eyeing a resolution to the bloody 18-year conflict.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the Afghan gathering ‘has been a long time coming’ and praised the country’s ‘government, civil society, women, and Taliban’ for coming together.
Washington has said it wants to seal a political deal with the Taliban ahead of Afghan presidential polls due in September to allow foreign forces to begin to withdraw.
Around 70 delegates attended the two-day gathering jointly organized by Germany and Qatar.
Dialogue of hope
‘History will remember those who were able to set their differences aside for the sake of the country’ said German envoy Markus Potzel as he opened the gathering last Sunday.
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said on Twitter that he looked ‘forward to a constructive dialogue.’
The U.S.-Taliban talks of the seventh round have been put on hold for the two day Afghan conference and are set to resume Tuesday, according to both sides.
U.S. lead negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said Saturday that the latest round of U.S.-Taliban talks ‘have been the most productive of the rounds we’ve had with the Talibs.’
The Taliban said they were ‘happy with progress.’
The United States is not participating directly in the two-day Afghan summit, which is being attended by political heavyweights, government officials and at least six women.
The Taliban refused to negotiate with the government of President Ashraf Ghani and stressed that those attending are only doing so in a ‘personal capacity.’
Sunday and Monday’s gathering is the third such meeting following summits in Moscow in February and May.
The Doha peace process
The seventh round of negotiations between Taliban representatives and US officials in Qatar has made ‘spectacular progress’, on a draft agreement aimed at ending the 18 year old conflict in Afghanistan, a spokesman of the militant organization told Al Jazeera.
Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman also told the middle eastern TV network, ’80-90 per cent work on the peace agreement is finished’.
Earlier on July 1, as negotiators from the United States and the Taliban were trying to hammer out terms for a peace agreement in the Qatari capital, Doha an announcement has been set for an all-Afghan peace summit on July 7-8.
Earlier Suhail Shaheen told the Associated Press that both sides were looking for ‘tangible results’ while trying to hammer out the fine print of agreements for eventual withdrawal of over 20,000 US and NATO troops.
Trump revived the peace initiative
The peace process was revived only after Trump announced a drastic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and sought Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s help in December 2018 to jumpstart the talks. Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001 till their ouster by US invasion refused to talk to the Ghani administration.
The tedious talks are now being held at Doha, Qatar, between the Taliban led by Mullah Ghani Barader and the US, led by Mr Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born US diplomat. Khalilzad has already held six rounds of talks with Taliban leaders in the group’s Qatar office, since the talks began in October 2018. Several Western officials have held separate meetings with the Taliban to convince them to end the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan.
The Afghan war began shortly after the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks, on the US. After 18 years of the conflict, US-backed regime in the country controls only half territory.
Presidential poll and peace hiccup
The accelerated pace of negotiations and the sudden announcement of September 1 for an agreement could be linked to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s insistence on holding presidential polls in the country.
The rescheduling of the presidential poll in Afghanistan and the political debate over whether the incumbent president should continue in office during vote, came at such a point of time when the US was trying to find a political settlement to its 18-year-old war with the Taliban. But it is not clear whether the peace initiative has anything to do with the rescheduling of the elections.
Presidential elections in Afghanistan are now scheduled for 28 September 2019, more than four months after the president’s five-year constitutional term ended on 22 May.
Khalilzad suggest that presidential elections could hamper in reaching a peace agreement.
Whether Khalilzad’s statement is aimed at cautioning the concerned people or an indication of any past peace hiccup cannot be said with certainty.
But facts remain that the first-ever direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives in 2015 could not go beyond first round after the news of Mullah Omar’s death was leaked in the media. It was later revealed that Mullah Omar died years ago and the report was leaked by vested quarter at the particular time of the talks ‘perhaps to scuttle the peace process.’ Representatives of the United States and China also attended lone round of talks hosted by Pakistan.
When Mullah Mansur, the new Taliban chief, was killed in a drone strike in Balochistan, the peace process came to a grinding halt.
Three years later when the talks resumed, the Taliban are stronger and more dangerous than ever. The Afghan government is in disarray. The conflict has reached something close to a stalemate and the American forces are not even closer to defeating the Taliban.
[The writer is a Dhaka-based freelance journalist]

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