Kabul is hosting a week-long virtual international conference on Afghanistan’s peace process. It has been organised by the Presidential Palace to discuss peace and to build consensus on the reconciliation process in the country. The conference is attended by the representatives of 19 countries and international organizations through video-conference. Iran, India, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations are participating in it. The meetings are being hosted by acting Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar. The Afghan foreign ministry said that the representatives from these countries and international organizations would be discussing over the week about the reduction in violence, release of Taliban prisoners, the beginning of intra-Afghan talks and cease fire.
Though the Government of Afghanistan (GoA) says that it is committed to start the intra-Afghan negotiations as soon as possible to ensure peace, stability and to end the war in the country, however, the peace process still faces significant obstacles. One of the main reasons behind the delay in the intra-Afghan negotiations was GoA’s refusal to release 597 prisoners out of the 5,000 inmates that were to be freed as part of the US-Taliban agreement signed in late February this year. According to the GoA, so far 4,015 Taliban prisoners have been released and the process will continue further, however, these 597 prisoners are accused of serious “moral crimes”. While the Afghan government’s negotiating team prepares to sits down, for the first time with the Taliban in the coming weeks, violence in the country continues with daily attacks, bombings and killings targeting Afghan civilians and security forces.
Despite the signing of the US-Taliban accord on February 29, 2020, peace has remained elusive in Afghanistan due to differences in positions between the Taliban and the Afghan government over the release of prisoners. The stated deadline of March 10 for the intra-Afghan dialogue to begin seemed both ambitious and improbable. Moreover, the political deadlock between President Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, the threat of cutting of aid and relentless violence amidst the fast spreading COVID19 pandemic complicated the path to peace in the country even further. Finally, a power sharing arrangement could be finalized between the presidential rivals which allows Ghani to stay on as President sharing an equal number of ministries with Abdullah Abdullah who will lead peace talks with the Taliban. The end of the political impasse in Kabul was unanimously welcomed by the international community which hoped for the commitment of the two leaders to act in support of the beginning of the intra-Afghan negotiations.
In the current political context of Afghanistan, the only side that appears to have gained substantially is the Taliban. Today, they have clearly emerged as a legitimate player in Afghanistan’s political landscape whereby the international community has largely demonstrated their eagerness to engage with the group. Moreover, it managed to extract a deal from the US, which previously refused to see it even as a stakeholder in the conflict. But the UN reports state that the Taliban’s military hardliners have set in motion, strategic alliances with non-Taliban groups that allow them to continue disrupting the peace in Afghanistan. The Haqqani Network has begun the process of partnering with the Islamic State of Khorasan, providing technical assistance to carry out attacks, such as the attack on the Kabul Gurdwara in March.
India has been closely following the developments in Afghanistan and so far, has adopted a cautious approach. Despite being skeptical of any kind of rushed deal, New Delhi had welcomed the initial pact. It has backed the Ghani government and wants the Taliban to recognize the democratic political structures in Afghanistan. During the ongoing pandemic, India has been supplying medical aid and food to Afghanistan consistently, following its policy of helping common Afghan citizens.
Dr. Smita, Strategic Analyst on Af-Pak Affairs