Thursday, August 21, 2014


Afghanistan

What Afghanistan, United States, Taliban Seek From Doha Talks

There are many in Afghanistan who would not be happy with the Taliban's wish list for peace negotiations. (file photo)
There are many in Afghanistan who would not be happy with the Taliban's wish list for peace negotiations. (file photo)
By Frud Bezhan
It's possible that they won't all sit at the same negotiation table, but the Afghan government, the United States, and the Taliban each have their own wish list for peace negotiations.

We look at some of the various expectations, demands, and sticking points among the three main players in the Afghan conflict.

THE TALIBAN

The Taliban is composed of numerous factions, and appears to be sharply divided on the issue of peace talks.

Hard-line Taliban, particularly from the group's military wing, have protested vehemently against participating in negotiations of any kind. Other high-level members of the insurgent group, some of whom remain in Pakistani custody, have called for a truce.

Demands

The Taliban will enter discussions with an eye on winning a few confidence-building concessions, including the release of Taliban detainees held in prisons under the control of the Afghan government. The release of the "Taliban five" held by the United States at its Guantanamo facility will also come up.

The Taliban is also expected to ask for sanctions against its members to be eased. The United Nations' Al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee has blacklisted more than 100 people linked to the Taliban, subjecting them to travel bans and asset freezes. At the request of the Afghan government, the UN Security Council has delisted several dozen names as part of a move to encourage the group to hold peace talks with Kabul.

The Taliban will seek to get formal recognition from Washington as a legitimate political entity.

The Taliban is also expected to float more contentious and ambitious demands, such as changes to the Afghan Constitution and other concessions that would give them considerable influence over the country's social and judicial affairs.

"The Taliban are likely to want significant influence in justice, anticorruption, education, and social affairs," says Matt Waldman, an Afghanistan analyst based in London. "These are the most notable areas where the Taliban will seek influence, in particular justice [and rule of law.] Taliban leaders feel they are best equipped to deliver justice and administer justice in Afghanistan."

Complications

The Taliban's inclusion in any negotiations regarding Afghanistan's future is of considerable concern to Afghan women. Afghan lawmakers and activists are worried that, under a possible peace deal, the Taliban's ultraconservative views will trample on the many inroads women have made in the past decade.

Resistance within Afghan society will also come from the country's ethnic minorities, who have gained considerable power within the government.

Qatari Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Ali bin Fahd al-Hajri (center) and Taliban representative Jan Mohammad Madani (left) at the opening ceremony of the new Taliban political office in Doha, Qatar, on June 18
Qatari Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Ali bin Fahd al-Hajri (center) and Taliban representative Jan Mohammad Madani (left) at the opening ceremony of the new Taliban political office in Doha, Qatar, on June 18


Former warlords and militia commanders from the ex-Northern Alliance, a mainly Tajik group, hold key government posts and will be reluctant to cede power. Some, such as General Abdul Dostum, an Uzbek militia leader, and Mohammad Ismail Khan, an ethnic Tajik leader, fought the Taliban in the 1990s and have reportedly begun rearming their former militias as a safeguard against a possible Taliban return.

Anatol Lieven, a professor and Afghanistan expert at King's College London, suggests that there can be no peace without the support of key elements from different ethnic and religious groups.

"Ultimately, the peace in Afghanistan has to be between the Taliban and the other permanent forces of which the components of the former Northern Alliance are by far the most important," he says. "If, in fact, you can’t get agreement with them then there's no settlement at all and the war continues."

THE AFGHAN GOVERNMENT

The Afghan government has expressed dismay at news that the Taliban plans to set up an office in Qatar and engage in talks with the United States. Kabul insists that the Afghan High Peace Council, the presidentially appointed body tasked with pursuing a peace settlement, will not take part in any talks in Qatar unless the peace process is Afghan-led.

Quiz: How Much Do You Know About The Taliban?


On June 19, the day after the Taliban announced it was setting up an office in Doha, Karzai said he was breaking off negotiations with U.S. officials on a bilateral security agreement because "there is a contradiction between what the U.S. government says and what it does regarding Afghanistan peace talks."

Karzai's government appears to be concerned over the official status being given to the Taliban in Qatar, where the office was initially equipped with the Taliban's flag and the banner of  the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name the Taliban regime used to refer to the Afghan state it led. Kabul fears that such recognition could promote the idea that the Taliban is simply a government in exile.

Demands

Kabul demands that the Taliban recognize the central government, lay down its weapons, and accept the constitution -- preconditions the government has previously set for peace talks.

Waldman believes the Afghan government will be keen to restrict the Taliban's power in any power-sharing agreement and retain as much of its own power as possible.

"It's not clear if the Afghan government will go ahead with talks, but if they do then they will be hoping to limit the scope of Taliban influence in government affairs," he says. "In reality, if there's to be a negotiated resolution to the conflict then there will be a need ultimately for a power-sharing arrangement. But many in the government will be reluctant to cede power."

Complications

The first complication is that the government led by Karzai will not be in power in 2014, when presidential elections will be held in spring and foreign forces are expected to withdraw most of their troops by year's end.
Afghan President Hamid KarzaiAfghan President Hamid Karzai
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Afghan President Hamid Karzai

According to Lieven, the Taliban, which has so far resisted any kind of serious talks with the government, does not see Karzai as someone it will have to deal with in the long term.

"Under the only peace deal that would be acceptable to any significant portion of the Taliban, as far as I can see, the existing Karzai government ceases to exist," he says.

"Now, I can see the Americans coming around to that, but clearly the Kabul government is not going to commit suicide."

THE UNITED STATES

U.S. President Barack Obama said on June 19 that "an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process is the best way to end the violence and to ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region."

Demands

The administration has insisted the Taliban would have to renounce ties to Al-Qaeda, halt violence, and commit itself to protecting women and minorities. Furthermore, Washington has made it clear that U.S.-led NATO forces remain "fully committed" to battling Al-Qaeda.

Lieven thinks a peace settlement between the Taliban and Kabul has been a key part of Washington's exit strategy in Afghanistan.

"The Americans are deeply worried that if the war continues the Kabul government and army might collapse while American bases, advisers, and special forces remain in the country, thereby putting the U.S. in an extremely difficult position," he says. "They would obviously like to bring about a cease-fire with the Taliban."

Complications

The Taliban has said it will only hold direct talks with United States' officials if the U.S.-led NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan. The majority of foreign combat troops are expected to leave by the end of next year, but residual forces will stay in the country and the size of these forces is being discussed between Kabul and Washington.

Frud Bezhan

Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org. 

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