Developments in Afghanistan – 3

Spearhead Analysis – 04.12.2018

By Hira A. Shafi
Senior Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Reportedly, there has been a surge in fighting between Taliban and security forces in the wake of renewed efforts for peace talks. Several Afghan civilians and security forces, and Taliban members were killed in November alone- indicating signs of escalating violence. Recently, Mullah Abdul Manan was killed along with 32 others by an airstrike in Helmand province- He was the “shadow governor” of Helmand province.  His death was confirmed by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

In the recent Geneva talks, President Ghani, revealed the NUG plan for peace- which entails a 12-member negotiating team formed to negotiate with the Taliban. However, President Ghani also stated that the peace implementation plan may take up to five years to materialize.  Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah also stated that peace process would have five phases starting with an intra-Afghan dialogue, followed by discussions with Pakistan and the United States, then regional actors, the Arab Islamic world, and finally NATO and non-NATO countries. The conference participants agreed that peace in Afghanistan must be based on a broad political consensus across the society.

At the Geneva conference, President Ghani also called on to the world community to invest in the reconstruction efforts of Afghanistan. In line with its commitment to rebuilding and reconstruction efforts the European Union signed a financing agreement worth millions of euros, mainly focused on public sector development and economy. He also revealed the fact that ANDF has lost 28259 killed and that Afghanistan’s economy is picking up reducing the requirement of foreign funding. There are reports that there has been a slight reduction in opium production.

The conference is said to have come at a crucial time, after the parliamentary polls and before the presidential election- some believe that there is an urgency in bringing about some form of stability to ensure that the upcoming presidential elections are held in a peaceful manner. A cease fire on the lines of the last Eid ul Fitr cease fire would help vastly.

Internally in Afghanistan- questions are being raised by some Wolesi Jirga members on the 12-member government’s team for talks with the Taliban, some are of the view the selected government delegation lacked the capacity to negotiate peace with the Taliban and the president should reconsider the team. Currently, the 12 member team includes: President Chief of Staff Abdul Salam Rahimi, Acting Education Minister Mirwais Balkhi, Acting Minister of Information and Cultural Affairs Haseena Safi, Deputy Higher Education Minister Abdul Tawab Balakarzai, Deputy Refugee and Repatriation Minister Dr. Alema, Deputy NDS Director Gen. Ebadullah Ebad, Wolesi Jirga Member Shahgul Rezaee, Ulema Council Head Attaullah Lodin, Paktia Govenror Shamim Katawazai, Supreme Court Member Dr. Abdullah Attai, Foreign Ministry Cultural Affairs head Toryali Ghiasi and Abdul Hakeem Munib, deputy minister for Hajj and Religious Affairs.

In tandem with efforts for peace talks, the Trump administration on its part has enhanced its use of militray force in recent months. Many see a lack of clarity in the US policy in Afghanistan- some believe that the US is seeking a respectable exit, while others believe that the US lacks clarity on how to devise a political solution for the Afghan crisis. Recently, Secretary Mattis stated that while the US is focused on finding an end to the Afghan War through a political solution, he does not foresee a withdrawal of US troops anytime soon. He also added that the reconciliation effort in Taliban cannot be a sole US effort and that it would require help of regional players. President Trump could however surprise everyone with orders for a US exit but this would be disastrous for Afghanistan and the region.

Alice Wells, also recently stated that the door had opened for a possible peace settlement with the Taliban since President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of unconditional talks in February 2018. Reportedly, Zalmay Khalilzad, has held several rounds of preliminary talks with Taliban officials in Qatar. However, the talks have not been so fruitful yet. There are lingering doubts on the US -fighting and talking- policy and over the US unclarity in devising a coherent mechanism for Afghan peace plan with key regional players. Khalilzad has been optimistic on talks and is visiting the region again. President Trump in a letter to the Pakistani Prime minister has urged him to support the peace process and renew the relationship with the US. This underscores US interest in finding a solution to the violence in Afghanistan and its exploitation by IS.

Recently, an important round of talks- on Afghanistan- was held in Moscow, Russia. Eleven countries participated in the summit. Afghan Taliban also participated and shared a stage with the delegates from Afghan High Peace Council.

The Afghan Taliban is said to have presented four main conditions for peace talks: 1. Removal of sanctions. 2. Release of detained Afghan Taliban members 3. Opening of a political office. 4. Stopping negative propaganda of the Afghan Taliban. It is noteworthy that withdrawal timelines and direct talks were not in the top key conditions.

The Afghan government did not participate directly in these talks and observers were also sent by the US Government. Reportedly, there were some reservations from the US and Afghan government regarding the Moscow Summit. Indian presence in the Moscow talks was widely noted as an indicator of some realization of regional shifts. Russia has become more actively involved in the Afghan conflict in the recent past and has also held consultation with regional countries including China, Pakistan, Iran and India. The Afghan war has caused spillover effects on regional players— according to prevailing perceptions regional socio-economic development may not be maximized without Afghan peace and stability. It is essential for the regional players and US to be on the same page in carving out a political solution for the Afghan crisis.

As the negotiations for talks are likely to drag on there is a need push for a cease fire and ascertain the conditions on which the Taliban could agree. The IS presence in Afghanistan needs to be accurately assessed as the focus is entirely on the Taliban. A recent surge in cross border violence following the assassination of Afghan General Raziq in Kandahar, that the ANDS blamed on Pakistan, needs to be ended through bilateral contacts between Afghanistan and Pakistan otherwise the situation will continue to be exploited through acts like the kidnapping, torture and killing of SP Dawar of Pakistan—the botched handling of the incident by Afghanistan was particularly troublesome. A functional relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan and between the US and Pakistan is essential if peace efforts are to move forward. President Trumps letter to the Prime Minister is well timed in this context and gives Pakistan an opening to act in its own interest.

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