TRACK II DIALOGUE SERIES: Political Agreement in Kabul Paves the Way for Intra-Afghan Negotiations
On 8 June 2020, the Heart of Asia Society (HAS), with support from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) and in partnership with New York University’s Center on International Cooperation (CIC), hosted the second session of a Track 2 expert discussion on the developments in the peace process in Afghanistan.
The participants included former diplomats and scholars from Afghanistan, China, Russia, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, India, Norway, Pakistan, Qatar, the UK and the United States. His Excellency Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) also officially attended the meeting.
In the first part of the meeting, Chairman Abdullah offered his views on the current state of the peace process and the future steps to be taken, also elucidating the role of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) and that expected from foreign partners of Afghanistan at this critical stage.
Two shorter presentations were given about the perspectives of China and the US on the Afghan peace process and the chances for regional and international support for it.
Both parts of the meeting were followed by extensive Q & A sessions, before all participants joined in a general open discussion.
HAS offers here a brief summary of the main points that emerged from the presentations and discussion:
- In Afghanistan there is broad consensus on peace despite different views on other issues. The HCNR and the Cabinet agree on next steps towards Intra-Afghan Negotiations (IAN).
- The final details for IAN have been discussed with the Taliban in Doha. Qatar may soon become the venue for the of start of the negotiations. Germany was also considered as a potential host country and facilitator. Facilitators and possibly at a later stage a mediator must be agreed by both sides.
- The priority is there to get to the negotiating table in order to discuss issues with the Taliban without posing high hurdles prior to the process. The main points of contention should be postponed to a stage when the parties are able to discuss more freely.
- Constitutional changes are not to be considered a taboo, provided there is agreement on the decision-making processes which can lead to such changes.
- The end state should be a pluralist country free of terrorism and narcotics with a government focused on contributing to the wellbeing of the Afghan people and the region.
- Power sharing would not be a permanent solution and there is the need for a road map to a comprehensive peace.
- Other countries must respect the Afghan lead in the process and help create conditions for the people of Afghanistan to live in peace inside and outside the country.
- Platforms to framework regional support for peace, such as the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process, are useful. However, direct bilateral involvement of the regional countries, especially those that have more of an impact, is also needed.
- The HCNR expects all countries who have influence on the Taliban, or who could create some leverage, to use it in support of peace in Afghanistan.
- The immediate objectives of the US are to see IAN progress in order to get out of Afghanistan, but also to make sure that a failed deal does not result in a re-emergence of the terrorist threat. There is the need to balance internal political interests connected to the elections in November with a responsible and coordinated drawdown.
- Afghanistan is one of the very few spots where US-China cooperation can still happen, despite their souring relations elsewhere. China concurs that the region needs anti-terrorism initiatives, but US bases in Afghanistan are seen as a potential threat.
- The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could be a framework to engage regional countries, but bilateral problems among some of its participants and long-established policies on Afghanistan by single members of SCO makes this difficult.
- Europe may reduce its economic support under the impact of Covid-19. European funding will be conditional and only forthcoming if fundamental rights are respected and Europe’s main concerns such as corruption, drug trafficking and migration issues are addressed.
- There could be the need of a future role for the UN in mediating between the two sides or in providing framework for financial support after NATO’s withdrawal.
- India and Pakistan have each their specific concerns and policies but can find a common ground in the vision of Afghanistan as a pivotal area for the region’s economy which would be the key to any peace settlement and to long-term stability.
HAS and its partners are planning to continue the series of track 2 discussions to help facilitate dialogue and provide clarity on strategies and positions of parties to the conflict as well as the role of regional and international actors.
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