HAS Track 2 Dialogue Series: While Doha Prepares to Host the IAN, What Are the Challenges Still Ahead?
KABUL — The third session of the series of online forums on Regional and International Support for Afghan Peace was held on 29 June 2020. The series of Track 2 discussions is organized by the Heart of Asia Society in partnership with the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha and the Center for International Cooperation at New York University.
During the last few weeks, Afghanistan has seen a resurgence of violence, which ended a comparative respite from the worst attacks following the Eid ul-Fitr ceasefire. This threatens to spoil the progress recently made on the road towards intra-Afghan negotiations (IAN). The possibility that this stage of the peace process may witness increasing violence, mainly targeting civilians and aimed at derailing it or influencing its outcome, make attempts at gathering support for peace in Afghanistan even more relevant and urgent.
To this end, the Track 2 series brought together a broad representation of scholars and former diplomats from the region and the wider international community involved in the Afghan peace process.
The first part of the meeting was attended by H.E. Dr. Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, Special Envoy for Counterterrorism and Mediation in Conflict Resolution of Qatar. He shared his insights on the efforts to start intra-Afghan negotiations so far and on the prospects of the future IAN. In the second part, two presentations on the perspectives from Europe and Iran, respectively, were also offered.
Following is a list of the main points and perspectives that emerged from the presentations, the Q & A sessions, and the general discussion by all participants that concluded the meeting. This discussion, similar to the previous two rounds of the series, was held under the Chatham House rule:
- Negotiating a peace settlement for the Afghan conflict has been a long and complex process which has lasted for seven years and has seen progress only in the last couple of years, after the main actors involved increasingly realized that no military solution exists.
- The pace of the process has been slower than early expectations raised recently by the sweeping progress on the mutual prisoners’ release. Particularly nasty acts of violence in the past weeks could be the act of spoilers. However, there is still consensus by the main parties involved about the imperative for a political solution. Peace is closer now than at any time in the past, although this has not yet translated into any tangible security or improvement in the lives of Afghans.
- Both sides of the conflict seem to have reached a mutual understanding that a reduction of violence is an important step towards IAN, although this has still not happened in a significant way. The possibility of a future trilateral Taliban-US-Afghan Government communication mechanism to report military activity is under study.
- There is the need to establish monitoring tools to guarantee that released prisoners do not return to fighting, as well as providing rehabilitation and reintegration and other assistance programs.
- The Taliban and the government agree on the need for the peace process to be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. At this stage, the Afghan government and the Taliban seem not to be ready to accept any third-party mediation or facilitation, though this could change as IAN formally starts. The role of a third party as a mediator/facilitator is believed by many actors to be important if not inevitable; such a role would require the consensus and trust of the two sides. It would be better to avoid international competition for such a role to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on the process or offer undue visibility or legitimacy to one or another of the parties to the conflict.
- The US has been the catalyst of the peace process so far and estimates about the timeframe for the IAN seem to depend largely on the US political agenda: a short timeframe over a few months for the process is based on the need for a successful peace agreement between the two warring sides to allow for the US withdrawal. On the other hand, there are credible doubts that any major progress in the peace process could take place before the US elections in November or the installation of a new US administration in January. At any rate, it was considered critical to help the Afghan peace process make progress in the next few months so that it may resist the changes that a US election may bring.
- Issues like the re-establishment of an Emirate are considered redlines by many countries in the light of past experiences. However, many participants stressed the need to leave the issue of nomenclature for the future Afghan government to the Afghan sides to decide. Instead, it was recommended to focus on contents, state structures, and political processes.
- Most participants supported the preservation of the continuity of government, also in order to avoid any institutional collapse and the democratic achievements made by the people of Afghanistan in the last 20 years. The new reality constituted by the young Afghan generation and the rise of civil society, including the establishment of a parliament and the growth and development of Afghanistan’s independent media, cannot be ignored.
- The Taliban have come to recognize that any Afghan government that comes to power will require foreign assistance for a lengthy period of time and also acknowledged in the Doha Agreement that it will entertain future good relations with the US. However, there are doubts as to how much they have changed their core political views and are ready to compromise. Continued foreign assistance will play a significant role as a leverage tool, as it is linked to the quality of the end state and the degree to which rights are respected and the aid use is accountable. As European pledges to Afghanistan are expiring, the next donors’ conference scheduled for November will need to raise funds as an investment in an end state, with the form of the end state largely determining the scale and duration of the investment.
- There is the need for all the relevant regional and international countries and organizations to support, despite differences among them on other bilateral issues. It was suggested to establish a group of friends of the peace process, to improve communication and streamline support for it, organized at the different levels of neighbors, regional countries and international actors.
- It was emphasized that Afghan peace, economic growth, and regional connectivity are closely linked and mutually supportive. Participants noted that there is a need to prioritize an economic development agenda for Afghanistan, both as part of IAN and of regional and international support for Afghan peace. The current diplomatic tour of the regional countries by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the head of the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) could engender cooperation. The success of a peace settlement depends not only on commitments by the two warring parties but also by the other countries to abide to the agreement and revert to economic competition only.
HAS and its partners are planning to continue this 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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