GENEVA: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has formed a 12-strong team to negotiate peace with the Taliban, but implementation of any deal will take at least five years, he said on Wednesday.
He was speaking at a UN conference on the 17-year-old war between Afghan security forces and an increasingly confident Taliban, who are fighting to drive out international forces and establish their version of Islamic law.
The Taliban are not at the Geneva talks but will be closely monitoring the gathering of Afghan leaders and international diplomats, which coincides with efforts by US President Donald Trump’s administration to push for peace with the group.
“We seek a peace agreement in which the Afghan Taliban would be included in a democratic and inclusive society,” Mr Ghani said, adding that any deal must fulfil certain conditions, including respecting the constitutional rights of women.
The president, facing a war-weary public back home, called upon Afghans to back his peace push in an election next April. “Presidential elections in the spring are key to successful peace negotiations. The Afghan people need an elected government with a mandate to obtain ratification [and] implement the peace agreement and lead the societal reconciliation process,” he said.
“Implementation will take a minimum of five years to reintegrate six million refugees and internally displaced people,” he said.
The two-day Geneva gathering is intended to help resolve the quagmire created by the war, a development that would pave way for the withdrawal of foreign troops.
Mr Ghani said his chief of staff would lead a negotiating team, including women as well as men, and an advisory board, comprising nine diverse and representative committees, would provide input into the negotiations.
US Under Secretary of State David Hale urged the Taliban to commit to a ceasefire and appoint their own negotiating team, but also warned that the presidential election needed to be managed better than parliamentary elections last month.
“Afghans and donors alike will watch to see if the technical flaws are corrected in next year’s presidential election,” Hale said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed the concerns about the elections and called for a broad intra-Afghan dialogue, saying Russia was worried about the worsening military and political situation. There should be closer cooperation against the Afghan wing of the militant Islamic State group, which threatened the whole region, he said.
Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2018