TRACK II DIALOGUE SERIES: Can Peace Talks Continue Amid Uptick in Violence?
KABUL – One month into the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations (APN), which began in Doha on 12 September 2020, there is limited progress at the negotiating table and a serious deterioration of security inside Afghanistan. The Sixth Session of “Building a Peaceful Afghanistan: Regional and International Support for Afghan Peace” Track 2 series was held on 14 October 2020. HAS, in collaboration with the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha and the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, convened regional and international participants of its track 2 dialogue series, including scholars and diplomats, for a virtual discussion on perspectives for peace in Afghanistan.
The online meeting, which was held under Chatham House rules, was attended by Ambassador Roland Kobia, the EU Special Envoy to Afghanistan, and Ambassador Markus Potzel, the Special Representative of Germany for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as keynote speakers. They offered their views on the present state of the Afghan Peace Negotiations (APN) in Doha and the challenges and opportunities lying ahead for the peace process.
The keynote speeches were followed by an extended Q&A session and a general discussion among participants. During this sixth session, the following points emerged:
- After a two-week hiatus, the two negotiating sides have re-engaged and have now agreed on the need to hold regular daily meetings.
- The first serious roadblock occurred in the APN — on the issues of having Hanafi fiqh as the exclusive dispute resolution mechanism and the US-Taliban Doha Agreement as the framework for the present negotiations — is being overcome and the talks are expected to move forward to the issues of agenda planning and timeline.
- The recent impasse has raised the question of whether the two sides need to be encouraged to accept some sort of external facilitation or mediation. The Host Country Support Group composed of Germany, Norway, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, and Qatar, together with UNAMA, is currently providing a channel for information to the negotiating parties in Doha. An International Peace Support Group is also currently being constituted which is expected to bring improved coordination and cooperation at the international level.
- The possibility of future guarantors to an agreement and the role of Track 2 initiatives have also been discussed.
- The recent escalation in violence is unacceptable and major military offensives like the one by the Taliban in Helmand ran counter to the February US-Taliban agreement. The need for a ceasefire to feature more prominently on the international community agenda was stressed, as the hoped-for reduction of violence has not yet materialized.
- The possible consequences of a failure of the APN were considered: the worst-case scenarios included the return to power of forms of government unacceptable to the Afghan public and the international community or even the risk of split territorial control and continuing civil war.
- The international community should entreat or exert influence and pressure over two parties to make concessions in an equal way. Issues related to women and citizens’ rights should not be excluded from the negotiations because of a realpolitik approach, but rather become one of the core constituents of an eventual peace agreement.
- As a major sponsor to the reconstruction of Afghanistan but not directly involved in the mediating efforts, the EU has taken an outspoken position about the values and institutional orders that it considers as red-lines; it was now required to step up its practical diplomatic role in support of the peace process, also to fill any future vacuum left by the US.
- Also in view of the recent US contradictory statements about an anticipated withdrawal, there is the need to prevent hasty moves on their part which could jeopardize the peace process. The US role in support of Afghanistan and as a deterrent for the regional competition is vital for stability. Another key component for future stability in the region is China, which has upgraded its relations and strategic role with respect not only to Pakistan, but to Iran as well, but which hasn’t taken any major diplomatic steps to rally regional consensus and support for the process.
HAS and its partners are planning to continue the series of track 2 discussions in order to help facilitate dialogue and provide understanding of the strategies and positions of parties to the conflict, as well as enhancing the role of regional and international actors.
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