12 October 2020
Sources said US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with negotiation teams from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban.
The two sides have agreed on 18 out of 20 articles for the procedural rules, but two main articles—religious basis for the talks and connection of the US-Taliban deal with the negotiations—remain unsolved. The Taliban insists that if a dispute emerges during the negotiations, the solution must be sought using the Hanafi jurisprudence and that the foundation for the talks should be the peace deal that the group signed with the US in late February. But the Afghan republic’s team has rejected the Taliban’s demands and has suggested some alternatives.
Sources said on Monday that the US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with negotiation teams from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban on Sunday to end the deadlock of Afghanistan’s negotiations.
TOLOnews reporter Karim Amini also said: “Today there may not be a meeting between the two teams, but there is optimism that meetings will resume in coming days.”
The peace negotiations between negotiating teams from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban started on September 12; however, so far, direct talks have not started because of disagreements on procedural rules for the negotiations.
Two weeks ago, Khalilzad landed in Doha, causing speculation that his mission was to mediate between the two sides. But Khalilzad himself said that he traveled to Doha for the purpose of implementing the US-Taliban peace agreement and to assist in attempts to reduce violence.
The Taliban has not commented on resuming the contact groups meetings.
“The contact groups negotiations will potentially resume tonight (Monday),” said Ghulam Farooq Majroh, a delegate from Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. “We will make efforts to agree on a procedure that will ease the negotiations. We hope to expedite the process and address the demand of the war-hit Afghans and we also hope to see flexibility from the other side.”
More suggestions have been put on the table to overcome the rift between the two teams, which include the religious basis for the talks and the connection of the US-Taliban deal with the negotiations.
One of the suggestions, sources from Qatar said, is adding the US Security Council Resolution to the talks along with the US-Taliban deal to be part of the procedures of the negotiations. The resolution does not recognize the Islamic emirate of the Taliban and has mentioned the republic as the government in Afghanistan.
Another option is to remove the two disputed points from the procedural rules for the negotiations.
“There isn’t any problem in the process that doesn’t have a solution. There is a need to work on the mechanisms and agree on one and begin formal negotiations,” said Sharifa Zurmati, member of the republic’s negotiating team.
“Breaking the deadlock in the ongoing talks in Qatar has three solutions: First, more cooperation should be done with Americans to ease their (Taliban’s) stance. The second solution goes through Islamabad and you can work diplomatically with Islamabad to put pressure on the Taliban. The third solution goes through the battlefield,” said Idris Rahmani, a US-based analyst.
The Doha talks were inaugurated one month ago on September 12 with the hope of ending of decades of war in the country. So far, the contact groups of the two sides—a small set up to discuss procedural rules—have held eight meetings. They have not held any meeting over the last 12 days, according to delegates.
No Progress in Doha Talks as War-hit Afghans Await Breakthrough
Formal meetings between both sides of the Afghan peace negotiations in Doha have been suspended for the past 10 days and it is not clear when the meetings will be resumed.
Despite recent efforts in the diplomatic fronts in the past two weeks, the two sides of the negotiations have not managed so far to reach a conclusion about the procedural rules intended to kick start the direct peace negotiations aimed at ending the decades-long war in Afghanistan.
The two sides have agreed on 18 out of 20 articles for the procedural rules, but two main articles—religious basis for the talks and connection of the US-Taliban deal with the negotiations—remain unsolved. The Taliban insists that if a dispute emerges during the negotiations, the solution must be sought in the Hanafi jurisprudence and that the foundation for the talks should be the peace deal that the group signed with the US in late February. But the Afghan republic team has rejected the Taliban’s demands and has suggested some alternatives to the demands.
Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danish at an event on the country’s judicial institutions in Kabul on Saturday said the government’s judicial system is a just system and that it should not be compared with the justice system of some groups like the Taliban.
The Taliban has not made an official comment about the resumption of the talks between the contact groups from the two sides, but the republic team has said that the talks will continue unless the two sides reach a settlement.
This comes days after US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said he expects the Afghan peace process to be concluded in months, not years.
The opening ceremony for the negotiations was held on September 12, but the two sides of the talks have not yet started their direct negotiations. However, they have held eight meetings between their contact groups to discuss procedural rules for the talks.
Meanwhile, Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, on Saturday said that an early withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan will have some impacts on the ongoing peace process and the country’s situation but added that Afghans should be ready for any type of conditions and that they should work for their future together.
He made the remarks at an event at Afghanistan’s embassy in New Delhi on the last day of his four-day visit to India.
Abdullah said that whatever the decision on the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan, Afghans should come together and make their nation and the country on their own and that it should not be dependent on staying or withdrawal of the troops.
“No doubt, if it (troops pullout) is done early or ahead of ensuring peace in the country, it will have its impact but despite that, the first and the last responsibility is on us, on Afghans, so that what can we do under such circumstances and how can we prevent a crisis. It has only one response: we should strengthen our unity,” Abdullah said.
Late last week, US President Donald Trump in a tweet promised to withdraw his forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year. However, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the withdrawal will be dependent to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
Abdullah said that there isn’t any “spoiler” of the peace process within the Afghan government but added that some individuals are concerned about the type of peace that will be made with the Taliban.
“I don’t say peace spoilers but those who are concerned that what type of peace should we expect in Afghanistan, what type of situation will we face?” said Abdullah.
Peace Negotiations in Brief
The republic’s team has proposed that if a religious issue arises it can be solved based on Hanafi jurisprudence by default, however, the Shia Personal Status Law should be respected, and the choice of religious jurisprudence should be given to other minority groups as well. Regarding the US-Taliban agreement, the republic’s team recommended four options.
First option: The terms of the US-Taliban agreement could be accepted as underlying the talks, however, the terms of the joint declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, NATO and the US should also be accepted as applicable.
Second option: Neither the US-Taliban agreement nor the declarations of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with the US and NATO will be recognized as having any authority, and the negotiations will move forward based on the decisions of the consultative Loya Jirga and the Jirga’s declarations.
Third option: Both sides start talks “based on the national interest of Afghanistan.”
Fourth option: The Quran and Hadith are the main authority for the talks, replacing all others.
Trump’s Call for Troop Pullout ‘by Christmas’ Sparks Reactions
US President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday: “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”
Hours after Trump’s announcement, his national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Washington would reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early next year.
On Thursday, AFP reported that NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg insisted that members will decide together on when to leave Afghanistan, in response to President Trump’s tweet.
But is the US troops pullout by Christmas in accordance with the deal signed between the United States and the Taliban in Doha on February 29?
According to the US-Taliban peace agreement, the United States committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces of the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisers, and supporting services personnel within fourteen (14) months following the announcement of the agreement.
Trump’s statement on the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan comes two days after the US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said that a complete drawdown from Afghanistan will be based on the implementation of the US-Taliban peace deal.
The agreement states that the US will fully withdraw its forces over the next 14 months and that the current force of about 13,000 troops will be reduced to 8,600 within 135 days. Non-US NATO and other coalition forces will also be reduced proportionally over that time.
The conditions of the US-Taliban agreement is made up of four key parts:
(1) Guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.
(2) Guarantees, enforcement mechanisms, and the announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.
(3) After the announcement of guarantees for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces and timeline in the presence of international witnesses, and guarantees and the announcement in the presence of international witnesses that Afghan soil will not be used against the security of the United States and its allies, the Taliban will start intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides on March 10, 2020.
(4) A permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations. The participants of intra-Afghan negotiations will discuss the date and details of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, including joint implementation mechanisms, which will be announced along with the completion and agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan.
The Taliban issued a statement welcoming Trump’s tweet.
“(The Taliban) welcomes these remarks and considers it a positive step for the implementation of the agreement between (the Taliban) and the US,” the Taliban’s statement said.
The statement also said that the Taliban is committed to the contents of the agreement and hopes for good and positive relations with all countries, including the US, in the future.
“Whether the US stays there or not, this deadly war will continue for years, therefore the peace negotiators should take advantage of the opportunity and agree on a political settlement,” said Tariq Farhadi, former adviser to the president.
In an interview with TOLOnews’ Lotfullah Najafizada, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said that he expects the Afghan peace process to be concluded in months, not years.
Khalilzad also said that the current scale of violence in Afghanistan is not acceptable, and that it is strange how the Taliban has stopped attacks on foreigners but continues attacking Afghans.
“The Taliban attacks are not taking place against the foreign forces…we are happy with that, but, on the other side, the war continues against Afghans,” said Khalilzad.
Meanwhile, Abdullah Abdullah, the head of High Council of National Reconciliation, in India said that some of the US forces will withdraw until November.
“There is no doubt that (by) November, part of that withdrawal will be completed, that’s what we are aware of…and that’s what the US military on the ground was making preparations (for) and some numbers would have been left beyond that, so that is as far as I can say at this moment,” said Abdullah.
The peace negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has so far not made any comment.
Based on Trump’s tweets, the US forces will pull out from Afghanistan 4 months prior to the US-Taliban agreement.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid on Thursday said Trump’s statement was welcome and he considered it a “positive step” for the implementation of the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban signed in Qatar earlier this year.
But Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said a “premature” withdrawal of US troops would have negative consequences for the war-torn country.
“It will take a little bit [of] time for us to digest it,” Abdullah said at an event organised by a think-tank in India’s capital, New Delhi.
“It will happen one day, of course, and Afghanistan should be able to stand on its own feet, but if it is premature, it will have its consequences.”
“Nineteen years is enough. They’re acting as policemen, OK? They’re not acting as troops,” Trump later told Fox Business Channel.
No breakthrough yet in intra-Afghan talks
If the withdrawal happens, it would be months ahead of the schedule laid out in the US-Taliban deal which said the US troops would be out of Afghanistan in 14 months, provided the Taliban promised not to allow foreign groups to launch attacks on the Afghan soil.
Trump’s surprise tweet came as the Taliban and the Afghan government-appointed negotiating team have been holding historic peace talks in Qatar’s capital, Doha, for nearly a month.
Those talks have been painfully slow as both sides have become bogged down on the intricacies of how they would go forward with reaching an agreement.
Still, both sides have stayed at the negotiating table even as Washington’s peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, returned to the region last week.
Pakistan has helped shepherd the Taliban to the negotiating table and its role is seen as critical for lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Even as the warring sides meet in Doha to map out what a post-conflict Afghanistan might look like, Washington and NATO have already begun reducing their troops’ numbers.
Washington is now down to below 5,000 troops from an estimated 13,000 when it signed the agreement with the Taliban on February 29.
But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance should decide collectively to leave together “when the time is right”, based on the security situation on the ground.
“NATO is in Afghanistan to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists,” he said in Brussels on Thursday.
Fighting in the country persists as the Taliban continues to reject a ceasefire with Kabul despite the start of the peace negotiations in Doha.