Afghan Taliban team – led by the militia’s senior most militia leader Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar – and US team led by President Trump Special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad have put their heads together in Doha, capital of Qatar, seeking solutions for ending the longest US war in Afghanistan.
The seventh round of Doha talks are the continuation of marathon negotiations between the US officials and Taliban members for resolution of the Afghan conflict that is continuously taking a heavy toll in deaths and destructions in Afghanistan and also in the region.
The Monday (25 February) talks coincided with a UN report listing more civilians were killed in Afghanistan in last year than in any previous nine years of the increasingly bloody conflict.
The report which was released a day earlier (February 24) stated the spike in deaths (3,804) and casualties (7189 injured) are due to increased suicide bombings by militants Islamic State group and stepped up aerial attacks by the coalition forces. Taliban share in the deaths and destruction constitutes a major part.
The seventh round of peace negotiations between the two adversaries has led to renewed hopes for peace in Afghanistan. Early in last month at the conclusion of the six-days marathon session in Doha, both sides announced to have reached a framework agreement for peace which included Taliban commitment to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international militant syndicate while the US agree on time line for forces withdrawal.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is leading the militia’s political office in Doha, is supervising the Taliban team for the first time. The participation of Mulla Ghani Baradar led to further hopes and beliefs that current round of Doha process will be result oriented.
Mulla Ghani Baradar is the co-founder of Taliban movement along with Mulla Omar and currently head of political council directly reporting to the incumbent leader of Taliban Mulla Haibatullah.
Mulla Baradar – though facing travel ban- is specially invited by Qatari foreign minister who sent a special plane to Pakistan to take him to Doha for the talks.
Keeping in view the importance of Doha moot and the presence of Ghani Baradar; US envoy Khalilzad while arriving at Doha tweeted, “Arrived in Doha to meet with a more authoritative Taliban delegation. This could be a significant moment. Appreciate Qatar for hosting and Pakistan in facilitating travel. Now the work begins in earnest.”
Khalilzad has reasons to believe that this time he is meeting with a more “authoritative” team of Taliban. Previously, the US always complained that the militia members with whom Khalilzad was engaged in talks was always seeking guidance from their “leadership Shura” back in Afghanistan – and most of the times causing waste of time.
The 14-members Taliban delegation, besides Ghani Baradar have other members from Taliban leadership Shura including Maulvi Ziaur Rahman Madani, Maulvi Abdus Salam Hanafi, Mulla Abdul Manan Omari, Maulvi Ameer Khan Muttaqi, Mulla Mohammad Fazil Mazloom, Mulla Khairullah Khairkhwa, Mulla Noorullah Noori, Maulvi Mohammad Nabi Omari and Mulla Abdul Haq Waseeq Mulla Abdul Lateef Mansoor along with other regular members of negotiation team.
Mulla Mohammad Anas Haqqani, younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani and deputy to Taliban supreme leader Mulla Haibatullah, is leader of Haqqani Network, is the only member of political council who could not participate in the talks.
In Doha both the adversaries are likely to push each other for further concessions. According to the plan the meeting’s agenda is continuing talks on the two agreed issues – Taliban commitment to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international militant syndicate – and the US agreement on a time line for forces withdrawal. However, both sides are expected to raise other issues also. Taliban are likely to demand prisoners’ swap and lifting ban on movement of the senior Taliban leaders. While the US team will definitely push the militia leadership to announce ceasefire and stop opposition to opening dialogue with the Afghan government.
Washington will be also seeking substantial assurances from Taliban to ensure the Afghan land not used by the terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State etc. in future for attacks on US and its allies.
Pakistan, Qatar and other countries are also pushing Taliban for a ceasefire while continuing talks with US and leaders of Afghan diasporas. Pakistan wants Taliban to start dialogue with the Afghan government, saying that outsiders can do little to help Afghans overcome war if they do not sit together.
Commenting on Taliban refusal to sit with Afghan government, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah has also stated in a recent statement that as long as Taliban avoid talking with government hopes of ending Afghan conflict would remain a ‘pipe dream’.
Taliban position on cease fire is quite clear and strong. They say the militia wanted all foreign troops out before a ceasefire. And refusing talks with Afghan government, because they firmly believed the Unity Government is the “puppets” of US administration and not representative of the Afghans.
The other major positive development on the Afghan peace front is the understanding between two super powers – US and Russia- who agreed to work jointly for peace and ending the longest US war.
Prior going to Doha for the seventh round of peace talks, US envoy Zalmi Khalilzad has meeting with Zameer Kabulov –Russian special envoy for Afghanistan where in both vowed to work jointly and explore more options including securing UN travel waivers for Taliban negotiators from the world body terror lists.
US Envoy Zalmi Khalilzad after meeting with Russian special envoy for Afghanistan Zameer Kabulov in Turkey tweeted, “We agreed that all-inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue is essential to advance peace efforts… We will explore options for securing UN travel waivers for Taliban negotiators to participate in peace talks.”
The US and Russian peace envoys also agreed to “move forward, Afghans should name a unified, inclusive & national negotiating team that includes the Afghan government and other Afghans.”
Earlier Taliban announced meeting in Islamabad on February 18 but could not do so because names of some Taliban peace negotiators were on the UN list on travel ban. Afghanistan government also raised objections over Taliban members traveling to Islamabad and asserted that militant members are under UN sanctions and their visit to Islamabad “constitutes a violation of national sovereignty of Afghanistan.”
In a letter to the UN Security Council, Afghan government wrote that an invitation by Pakistan Prime Minister to Taliban delegation to travel to Pakistan “amounts to official recognition and legitimization of an armed-group that poses a serious threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan. And the meeting was postponed.
However, interestingly, the Afghan government never objected to certain Taliban leaders – who despite facing travel ban- had visited a number of countries including Iran, China, Russia and Indonesia etc.