No formal agenda set for upcoming intra-Afghan talks

Updated 16 Aug 2020

Email

In this May 2019 file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader, second left, arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for talks in Moscow, Russia. — AP
In this May 2019 file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader, second left, arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for talks in Moscow, Russia. — AP

ISLAMABAD: While long-awaited intra-Afghan talks are expected to commence in Doha in a few days, the process can be long and complex.

“We are hoping that something concrete would happen in about next 10 days,” a diplomat, who has been closely following the developments related to Afghan peace and reconciliation, said at a background briefing.

The release of the first batch of 80 Taliban prisoners from among the remaining 400 convicted in different cases has brightened the prospects for the talks believed to be crucial for sustainable peace in the war-torn country.

Under the Doha agreement between the United States and Taliban, the Afghan government was to release 5,000 prisoners in return for setting free of 1,000 security forces personnel by insurgents. About 4,600 of them were previously released in batches, but Kabul was reluctant to let go the remaining 400, who were described as dangerous.

The matter was later referred to Loya Jirga, which endorsed their release and President Ashraf Ghani subsequently issued a presidential decree for setting them free. The process, however, took a few days, which created misgivings that Kabul was dragging its feet on the issue.

Diplomat sees the process being very complex, protracted

The diplomat sounded hopeful about the process finally beginning, but warned that crucial time was being lost. About the talks, he said, there were a lot of intricacies and the process would be very complex and protracted. “There would be no simple solutions,” he cautioned.

He said that a lot of groundwork had been done by both sides for the structure and setting up of the secretariat of the talks. Yet, he added, there was no formal agenda for the inaugural session. “The two sides have drawn up their priorities, which they would like to talk, but there is no concrete agenda,” he maintained.

While there is a general understanding that there would be ‘no guarantors’ but ‘observers’ during the talks, a crucial question during the talks will be that of ceasefire.

Taliban’s political spokesman Suhail Shaheen had, in an interview with VOA earlier this week, said: “It is clearly written in the agreement that ceasefire will be one of the topics to be debated and agreed upon during intra-Afghan negotiations.”

The diplomat said a lot of focus would be on ceasefire, with the key issue being how it would materialise. “There are already few no-combat zones. Will ceasefire mean expansion in number of those zones or some other mechanism will be devised,” he remarked.

He urged both sides to show flexibility during the talks to make them successful and appreciated the Taliban for agreeing on the establishment of an inclusive government.

The other major issues during the talks, he believed, would be composition of the inclusive government, agreeing on a system for running the government, and provision of $4 billion annually for keeping the security mechanism intact. The first two issues are for the Afghans to address, while the third one has to be dealt with by the international community, he maintained.

Regarding the issue of women rights, the diplomat said that it was for the Afghans to get guarantees from the Taliban on this count.

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2020