HAS Track 2 Dialogue Series: Efforts to Put APN On Track and Rally Regional Support
KABUL — The fourth session of the expert discussion series “Building a Peaceful Afghanistan: Regional and International Support for Afghan Peace” was held on August 4, 2020. This 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.
The road towards intra-Afghan negotiations (IAN) has reached a critical stage. Developments in the last few weeks, including high levels of violence, a new ceasefire over Eid al-Adha (July 31- August 2) and the Loya Jirga convened to decide the fate of 400 controversial Taliban prisoners (August 7-9), have shown once again how the possibility of IAN are close at hand, but plagued by difficulties.
The participants to the Track 2 series held their fourth session with H.E. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, who offered his perspectives through a keynote speech and engaged with participants during an extended Q & A session. An open discussion concluded the online event.
The meeting was held under Chatham House rules, so HAS is able to offer an unattributed list of the main points that came out during the session:
- The release of the 400 Taliban prisoners accused of heinous crimes has become a pre-negotiation tussle between the two sides. The Taliban recently made a counteroffer promising, in exchange for their freedom, to commit to a significant reduction of violence and a specific date for the start of IAN, which could be shortly after the Loya Jirga decides on the issue.
- Levels of violence need to subside. The expectation is that there will be a downward trend in this sense following on the Eid ceasefire and that the issue of a comprehensive ceasefire will become a key topic for the IAN agenda. Attempts by spoilers, both internal (part to the Taliban or the government) or external (ISIS or other terrorist outfits or state actors), to derail the peace process must be prevented.
- The withdrawal of U.S. troops is based on the conditions set in the Doha Agreement. So far, the U.S. are satisfied with the Taliban’s anti-ISIS commitment. Despite the challenges to developing a regional mechanism for collective action against terrorism, countering the ISIS threat may be one way for the international community to engage with the Taliban on common ground.
- The U.S. supports inclusive participation in the IAN, and its position on the outcome of the negotiations is that Afghanistan should never again become a safe haven for terrorism and that the achievements of the last 19 years should be preserved. The U.S. is committed to providing economic and security assistance to this end.
- The Taliban convey the sense that they do not want to replicate the situation of the internationally isolated and impoverished Afghanistan of the 1990s. Economic aid will prove an important tool of leverage over the Taliban in the future, as their plans for the post-settlement scenario and reconstruction also rest on high levels of foreign assistance.
- The role of the U.S. in the peace process has so far been prominent; while some countries see it as the most effective way to proceed, others object on the grounds that it may create distrust and fail to deliver a sustainable peace. All ultimately agree that the transition to Afghan-led and Afghan-owned negotiations process must now take place.
- The presence of the U.S. in Afghanistan is a polarizing factor for the countries of the region and shapes their relations with Afghanistan. The role that this and other bilaterally contentious issues play is lessened in some multilateral settings, which would make it easier to engage regional countries effectively in support of Afghan peace.
- The participants of the Track 2 series suggested the creation of smaller working groups to draft options on a regional framework and to inform and develop recommendations to governments.
HAS and its partners are planning to continue the series of Track 2 discussions in order to help facilitate dialogue and provide greater understanding of the strategies and positions of the parties at conflict, as well as enhancing the role of regional and international stakeholders.
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