TRACK II DIALOGUE SERIES: Afghan View of Regional Dimensions in the Peace Process
HAS hosts first of a series of virtual Track 2 discussions on the role of regional countries in the Afghan peace process
On 28th May 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 a Track 2 expert discussion on the developments in the peace process in Afghanistan. The participants included one high-ranking Afghan official, former diplomats and scholars from Afghanistan, China, Iran, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, India, Norway, Pakistan, the UK and the United States.
The acting foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, His Excellency Mohammad Haneef Atmar, attended the virtual meeting as a keynote speaker.
The meeting started with a comprehensive presentation of the Afghan government’s strategy for the peace process and its vision of the role that external partners should play. This was followed by several rounds of Q & A and then by a general discussion among participants.
In accordance with the Chatham House Rule, in which format the meeting was held, HAS offers here a brief summary of the topics discussed and some of the conclusions reached:
- The Afghan government strategy for the peace process was laid-out in a detailed and comprehensive way in the first part of the meeting:
- The goal is a political settlement with the Taliban. Recent trust-building measures as the Eid ceasefire and the release of prisoners were important steps that brought the two parties closer to the start of Intra-Afghan Negotiations (IAN).
- The government sees the IAN as an inclusive process comprising itself, the Taliban and other Afghan political leaders. All Afghans, irrespective of their affiliation, must prevent external actors from taking decisions without the participation of Afghans.
- For the government, the end state is the Islamic Republic. The government argues that it offers the only framework in which peace can be sustained and the rights of the Afghan people respected.
- A clear vision about the end state will also dispel fears and enhance support for the peace process among regional and international countries. This is a vital condition for the peace process to achieve success.
- Regional and international consensus has been reached on some issues, on some others not yet. There is widespread consensus on the threats that the conflict in Afghanistan poses (terrorism, drug trade and other types of illegal trafficking) and on the need for peace. On the contrary, consensus is still lacking on issues like the end state, the future strategies to counter terrorism and the regional economic initiatives. It is in the economy however that the regional countries can realize that they have more common interest than disputes.
- Inclusivity – both at the national and regional level – is the key to a sustainable peace agreement. The Afghan government has proposed a 15+3 group to focus on regional aspects and a 17+3 to look at international aspects (with the three permanent participants being Afghanistan, the US and the UN). The future foreign policy of the country should be oriented towards neutrality and multi-alignment.
- Through the past five years, the Taliban have worked very hard to build more systematic relations with all countries in the region. This can be a challenge for the Afghan government, but at the same time, it creates openings for the international community to use the Taliban’s quest for international legitimacy in order to exercise more leverage on them. They also need to articulate more clearly their vision for the end state.
- Complexities in the regional and international actors’ relations can create obstacles for the peace process. The government’s hopes for a multi-aligned future Afghanistan run contrary to the current global trend. However, even though the US-China relations are currently going through a rough patch, Afghanistan might be an area where the two countries can cooperate.
- Peace may be in sight, if not at hand yet. But without the greatest commitment by the two sides and by the external actors, this last chance for a settlement could be squandered and the scenario get worse, with regional players reverting to disruptive roles. The potential drawdown of aid and attention from major donor countries like Europe due to coronavirus and the Trump administration’s insistence on withdrawing from Afghanistan contribute to the urgency for a political solution.
- At this stage, people in the region need to take the initiative much more, because of the situation in the US and Europe. There is the need to think about a role for the UN or another collective body to coordinate the regional response.
HAS and its partners are planning a series of track 2 dialogues 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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