‘Peace offer with inclusive election’

Farjana Liakat | Update:

Ashraf HaidariKabul wants to restore peace in Afghanistan, offering talks with the Taliban, the group the Afghan government has been fighting against since 2002.

The Kabul Process, as a top Afghan official says, is a peace initiative for dialogue with the Taliban to end the ongoing war and violence in that country.

“We have offered a ceasefire, enabling both sides to pause for building confidence and reaching a settlement that allows the Taliban to organise as a political party for recognition followed by an inclusive, credible, free, and fair election,” Ashraf Haidari, director general of policy and strategy of Afghanistan’s foreign affairs ministry, told Prothom Alo in an email interview.

Saying that the devastating violence in Afghanistan is not a battle among Afghans but a complex conflict imposed on that country, the Afghan official sought cooperation of all regional and international actors to restore peace in the civil war-torn country.

Various aspects of the peace process, as highlighted by Ashraf Haidari, involved with the process, are there in the full text of the interview:

Prothom Alo (PA): What has the Kabul Process so far achieved in restoring peace in Afghanistan? Did the recent Tashkent Conference produce any results?

Ashraf Haidari (AH): Under the Kabul Process, the key regional and international stakeholders - some 30 countries and international organisations including NATO, the United Nations, and the European Union - have met in Kabul twice so far, once in June 2017 and more recently in February. In the same vein, 21 countries and inter-governmental organisations, which gathered in Tashkent on March 27, renewed their call to the Taliban to accept the Afghan peace offer and cease violence.

PA: What does president Ghani’s grand peace offer to the Taliban entail? Are there any preconditions?

AH: The offer has been made with no preconditions. Our president’s peace offer is underpinned with our belief in the common equality of all Afghans and their right to live in peace and dignity based on a few commitments.

First, we have offered a ceasefire, enabling both sides to pause for building confidence and reaching a settlement that allows the Taliban to organise as a political party for recognition followed by an inclusive, credible, free, and fair election. Second, our peace offer is driven by a legal framework that consists of a constitutional review, justice and resolution of grievances, as well as prisoner release and removal of reconciled Taliban leaders and commanders from the sanctions lists. Third, throughout the peace process and following the end of hostilities, we will ensure the security of reconciled Taliban and their families, as well as reintegration of former Taliban combatants into civilian life. At the same time, we will facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced persons from abroad and inside.

PA: The Afghan deputy foreign minister also pointed out some of these Afghan peace-offer provisions in a recent New York Times Op-Ed. How have the Taliban responded so far?

AH: We are still waiting for the Taliban to respond. We understand that it takes time for them to discuss our peace offer. Our only concern is that as they’re foreign-controlled, they may further delay in responding to our offer, which the whole international community has encouraged them to consider and step forward to talk to the Afghan government. But we exercise strategic patience, knowing that any peace process is complex and lengthy and, in our case, it’s even more complicated given the multiplicity of actors that influence the process.

PA: On a related note, why has Afghanistan’s continued peace efforts failed, despite international support?

AH: I must give an explanatory response to this as it is an important question. Although we have made notable progress in every sector since 2001, our country unfortunately remains the regional and global frontline in the fight against terrorism, narcotics, and criminality. Between 2015 and 2017, 75,000 of our innocent people, including women and children, were killed and wounded, due to non-stop attacks on our villages, towns, cities, as well as public and private institutions.

Our neighbours fail to act on the fact that a stable Afghanistan ensures and enables a stable region. Even though consensus on the need to stabilise Afghanistan often emerges in rhetoric, it hardly translates into tangible results for achieving durable peace. Unfortunately, the elusive regional consensus on Afghanistan stems from the preference by certain state actors to advance their geostrategic goals through non-state actors: the Taliban and others.

For instance, the deliberate avoidance by Pakistan to engage with Afghanistan on a state-to-state basis has continued to derail our peace process, effectively undermining the many peace initiatives pursued by the Afghan government, with the support of our key international allies and partners, including the United States and China. That is why the ongoing, devastating violence in Afghanistan isn’t a battle among Afghans but a complex conflict imposed on our country. Consequently, terrorists from the region and beyond have exploited this lack of inter-state consensus and cooperation to further expand their operational space across Afghanistan, positioning them to undermine regional stability and prosperity.

PA: Any plans to create a buffer, peace zone for the Taliban?

AH: No. The whole Afghanistan will be potentially peaceful the moment the Taliban cease violence against their people. Afghans have repeatedly called on the armed opposition to accept our grand peace offer against a foreign strategy that exploits the Taliban to kill their own people and destroy their own country.

PA: Despite your government’s hard peace efforts, the Taliban still prefer to talk to the US rather than to you. Why is that?

AH: As I noted, the Taliban are guided by their external state sponsor to deliberately challenge us. By refusing to talk to us, they try to undermine the legitimacy of the Afghan government, whose leadership was elected by the Afghan people.

PA: How soon can peace talks with the Taliban start; what would be the initial agenda; and how can regional and international stakeholders in the process support you in achieving the results?

AH: Now that we have overcome years of difficulties and obstacles to make a grand peace offer, we are prepared to hold immediate, direct face-to-face peace talks with the Taliban leaders. We flexibly offer to meet in Kabul, in an Islamic country, or in a third country to be mutually agreed upon. We wish our initial meetings to focus on a substantive discussion of our commitment, gradually reaching negotiated agreements towards a peace accord for adoption and implementation by both sides.

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