Afghan govt. left out of Taliban talks

February 09, 2019 08:34 pm | Updated 08:34 pm IST

Afghan former President Hamid Karzai in Moscow, ahead of the conference with Taliban earlier this month.

Afghan former President Hamid Karzai in Moscow, ahead of the conference with Taliban earlier this month.

Earlier this month, the Taliban met with a group of Afghan politicians in Moscow. While the government was not included in the talks, prominent Afghan leaders like ex-President Hamid Karzai, former National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar, Deputy-Chief Executive Mohammad Mohaqiq, and Opposition leader Atta Mohammad Noor were among those present.

Both sides called the gathering “successful” and issued a nine-point declaration, one that calls for regular intra-Afghan dialogues but, more interestingly, also recognises specific demands made by the Taliban, like its call for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces.

Repeated media reports on ‘partial’ and ‘full withdrawal’ have raised fear and concerns over the security situation. The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, on Thursday quashed rumours over the immediate withdrawal of American troops. “I’ve heard some individual Taliban officials claim that we have a troop withdrawal timetable for Afghanistan. Today, they correctly retracted that claim. To be clear, no troop withdrawal timetable exists,” he said. Among other demands that found place in the declaration were the release of Taliban prisoners, removal of its leaders from the UN blacklist and the opening of a political office.

However, many Afghans, including President Ashraf Ghani, raised serious concerns over the meetings. Mr. Ghani, who despite his best efforts has so far been kept out of the peace process, dismissed the Moscow talks, stating that the Afghan delegation there has “no executive authority”. Haroon Chakhansuri, spokesperson to the Afghan President, called the Moscow meeting “a political and academic discussion”. He said the declaration was a “summary” of the two-day summit. “It is not an executive outcome on peace.”

‘They don’t represent us’

This view resonated among many Afghans, even those critical of Mr. Ghani. “The Moscow talks delegation represents the interests of a group of individuals of one or two election tickets, not accountable or responsible to the people of Afghanistan,” said Ejaz Malikzada, external relations officer at the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, a Kabul-based think tank.

Mr. Malikzada was among the many Afghans who took to Twitter and shared their opposition under the hashtag #UDontRepresentMe, referring to the Afghan delegation in the Russian capital.

“As you can see, there is widespread opposition on social media to the Moscow conference and the Taliban’s call to dissolve the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces],” he said, referring to a statement made by the Taliban representative, Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, to the media, stating that after the withdrawal of U.S. troops, there will be no need for the Afghan Army.

“Instead of legitimising the Taliban, giving them an international stage to express their medieval and misogynistic agenda, the ‘delegation’ could have stood with the nation’s call, which is supporting the entity of the government,” said Mr. Malikzada.

Some other demands made by the insurgents earlier, like the call to scrap the Afghan Constitution, have also become a reason for worry. “The only entity that can represent the Constitution of Afghanistan, the ANSF, and the interests of the nation is the government of Afghanistan,” said Mr. Malikzada, who has been critical of the government in the past. “Despite shortcomings, we can only rely and trust the entity of the government that is an epitome of the values we have achieved so far in the past 18 years,” he added.

(Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul)

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