Afghan Taliban to meet Pakistani officials before another round with US

First row: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, third from left, Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, right, Former National security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar and other participants of the "intra-Afghan" talks pray during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. The U.S. has promised to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April, a Taliban official said Wednesday, but the U.S. military said it has received no orders to begin packing up. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Successful Moscow Conference

Islamabad: A delegation of Afghan

Taliban Mullah Abbas Stanikzai, center, attends “intra-Afghan” talks in Moscow on Feb. 6. 2019.

will meet Pakistan’s officials including Prime Minister Imran Khan before the second round of talks with US. The Taliban’s move is being dubbed as the success of Moscow Conference.

US administration, no-doubt, has engaged the Afghan Taliban an honorable exit from Afghanistan, known as the toughest battlefield and graveyard of empires; another regional player, Russia too exhibited its influence by organizing a two-day high-level conference in first week of February, bringing the key Afghan power brokers including Taliban’s insurgents under one roof.

The President Hotel in Central Moscow was the venue of two-day (5-6 February 2019) conference on Afghanistan – which many observers called as “unusual”. The meeting brought Afghan representatives including Taliban insurgents together with key political and ethnic leaders.

Nearly 40 Afghans were invited to the meeting including former president Hamid Karzai; Hanif Atmar – Ghani’s national security adviser until late last summer and his key rival in July’s presidential election- and other most powerful ethnic and factional leaders such as Ismail Khan, Mohammed Mohaqeq and Atta Mohammad Noor. Majority of them are the political rivals of Afghan President Dr Ashraf Ghani as Hanif Atmar and Atta Noor already announced to contest July’s Presidential elections against Ghani.

According to political observers the Moscow meeting has reduced the embittered Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani to a rump, pushing it further into isolation. Ghani, now openly critical of dynamics of US-Taliban talks, won’t associate with any ‘intra-Afghan dialogue’ and threatens to reject any peace formula that is reached without him.

This was by all standards the first all-Afghans-moot and first of its kind where only the Afghans sat together to discuss the future of war-ravaged Afghanistan and ways to end the war began with fall of Taliban in late 2001. For the first time the Afghan women were represented by the two leading women activists of the Afghan Women’s Network sitting side by side with Taliban members. The Taliban members assured the other Afghan leaders that the militia leadership is not against the rights of women as enshrined in the teachings of Islam.

Afghan government was excluded from the conference because of the Taliban’s objection to any direct interaction with an administration that Taliban believe is a ‘US puppet’.

Various reports also suggest that Dr Ghani refused to accept the invitation because he believed the event did not provide a platform for directly engaging the Taliban for peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Media also reported Dr Ghani was also very much upset over the attendance of his arch political rivals, whom he believed, were placed on equal footing with the government to sabotage the authority of Kabul administration.

On the conclusion of the conference, the participants unanimously agreed to hold the next round of talks in Qatar’s capital Doha as soon as possible. A joint declaration was issued which outlined a nine point approach to promote “intra-Afghan” dialogue aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict in their country.

The key points of the declaration which highlight the Taliban’s position are:

  • All parties in this conference have agreed that a dignified and lasting peace is the aspiration of all the people of Afghanistan and this principle has been achieved in Moscow.
  • All parties agreed that in view of the current sensitive situation, the intra-Afghan dialogue must continue on regular basis.
  • All parties agreed to support the ongoing talks in Qatar and consider these talks a positive step towards ending the imposed war on Afghanistan.
  • All parties have agreed that systematic reforms be put in place in all national institutions including the security sector after a peace deal is signed
  • All parties agreed that the cooperation of regional countries and major countries are essential to determine lasting and nationwide peace in Afghanistan
  • All parties agreed that the values such as respect for the principles of Islam in all parts of the system, the principle that Afghanistan is a common home to all Afghans, support to a powerful centralize government with all Afghan ethnicities having a role in protecting national sovereignty and promoting social justice, to keep Afghanistan neutral in all regional and international conflicts, protecting Afghanistan’s national and religious values and undertaking a unified and single policy.
  • All parties agreed that to determine lasting peace in Afghanistan, the following points are important : the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country, asking all countries to avoid interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, providing assurance to the international community that Afghanistan will not be used against any other nation, protection of social, economic, political and educational rights of the Afghan women in line with Islamic principles, protection of political and social rights of the entire people of Afghanistan and protection of freedom of speech in line with Islamic principles, undertaking efforts for attracting international assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s infrastructure.
  • All parties agreed that in order to create the atmosphere of trust and promote peace, in the first step, it is important that these items are taken into consideration, tackling the issue of all those inmates who are old, or suffering uncurable diseases or have completed their prison sentences and the removal of leaders of the Taliban from the UN blacklist, opening of an official political office in Qatar for acceleration of peace talks.
  • All parties agreed that the next intra-Afghan meeting to be held in Doha, Qatar as soon as possible. Agreement was also made to work further on some other important issues related to the peace process in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ghani rejected the joint declaration in a statement issued by his office which said: “The meeting of some Afghan politicians with the Taliban which was held in Moscow at the invitation of the Russian Federation, was not about peace talks but a political and academic debate on peace and a statement issued at the end of this meeting is the summary of the two-day talks and has not executive outcome on peace.”

Earlier, President Ghani said Afghan politicians attending Moscow Talks have no executive authorities and are not officially representing the Afghan people. “With whom, what will they agree upon there? Where is their executive power? Let hundreds of such meetings be held, but these would only be papers (agreements) unless there is an agreement by the Afghan government; Afghanistan’s national assembly and Afghanistan’s legal institutions,” said Ghani.

Kabul also accused Russia of not fulfilling its pledge to facilitate direct talks between the government and Taliban members.

Ghani’s half-partner and Chief Executive of the Unity Government Dr Abdullah also criticized political leaders who attended the meeting. He said; “Some politicians are apparently under illusion that they can do anything to sabotage the government. Taliban are killing time, thinking by doing so they will be in stronger position and they will not need to negotiate after withdrawal of international force. Taliban’s position is the main obstacle to peace. They have to change their position.”

Taliban turned out to be more positive and serious in talking peace with Afghan ethnic and political leaders. Abbas Stanakzai, leader of Taliban delegation, at Moscow talks said Taliban believes in political solution of Afghan conflict. Once the US forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Taliban will not demand ‘political monopoly’ and in order to achieve sustainable peace, name of Taliban leaders must be removed from the US blacklist.

Observers believe that the Moscow meeting is going to have far reaching impacts on the US-Taliban talks scheduled to be held on 25th of February this year. The Moscow conference also puts its weight behind the Qatar process for political resolution of Afghan crises. The Moot also strengthen Taliban position in Talks with the US by supporting the Taliban demand for the complete withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.

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