Intra-Afghan talks to begin soon: Abdullah

‘Khalilzad is talking to Taliban delegates’

June 09, 2020 12:05 am | Updated 12:05 am IST - NEW DELHI

Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, May 30, 2020.

Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, May 30, 2020.

The Afghanistan government is preparing for the first round of intra-Afghanistan talks with the Taliban “soon”, said Abdullah Abdullah, the recently appointed chief of the High Council for National Reconciliation, on Monday.

The talks are expected to be held in Qatar, Mr. Abdullah said, while other countries that have offered to facilitate the talks, including Germany, may host future rounds.

“Khalilzad [has been] in Doha talking to Taliban delegates there in order to finalise the details, before the start of intra-Afghan negotiations,” said Mr. Abdullah, referring to the U.S. Special Envoy on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad’s visit to Qatar, Pakistan and Afghanistan this week. Mr. Abdullah was speaking to a group of international experts at a “Track-2” dialogue organised by the Kabul-based Heart of Asia Society (HAS).

The move towards the intra-Afghan peace process is significant as it is expected to speed up the Afghan reconciliation effort and pull out plan for the U.S.

Also read: India must not give Taliban legitimacy until it joins intra-Afghan talks, says former envoy Amar Sinha

The intra-Afghan dialogue will also see more calls for the Narendra Modi government to engage the Taliban. In the past few weeks, both Mr. Khalilzad and Russian Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, have said in separate interviews to The Hindu that they feel it is time for India to give up its opposition to talks with the Taliban which New Delhi has thus far seen as a terror group allied to Pakistan.

At least two senior Afghan officials also told The Hindu that they expected New Delhi to soften its stand on the Taliban once the intra-Afghan talks begin.

“India has been supportive of the peace process, and we believe they would talk if the Taliban joins the peace process and agrees to an end state acceptable to the people of Afghanistan,” one Afghan official dealing with New Delhi said.

Also read: Getting India back to the Afghan high table

“Most of the countries of the region have contacts with the Taliban now, and those who do have leverage that can be used in support of peace,” explained another senior official, who added that better ties between India and Pakistan would also “help the peace process.”

Meanwhile, Afghanistan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar has proposed a full revamp of multilateral talks that Kabul is a part of in order to avoid “exclusivist” arrangements, sources said. According to the new plan for the Ghani government, which is being discussed with all Afghanistan’s partners, there will soon be only two multilateral arrangements: a regional framework (15+3) including neighbours and partners in South and Central Asia, and an international framework (17+3) for Afghanistan’s other partners worldwide. Both arrangements would include Afghanistan, the U.S. and the United Nations.

Efforts are now under way to speed up the intra-afghan talks that have been delayed since the scheduled date of March 10. On Sunday, Mr. Khalilzad met with Taliban negotiator Mullah Baradar in Doha, and on Monday he met with Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Bajwa in Islamabad. In a bid to step up its focus on the peace process, Pakistan’s government has also appointed a Special Envoy for Afghanistan, former diplomat Mohammad Sadiq. A U.S. state department release said Mr. Khalilzad’s “primary focus is to obtain agreement between the Afghan parties on the practical next steps necessary for a smooth start to intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Among the issues being discussed in the lead up to the intra-Afghan talks are the release of prisoners, a reduction in violence, and talks towards making the Eid ceasefire announced on May 23 more permanent.

“Hopefully nothing between now and then will be an impediment, and while there is an understanding on the start of intra-afghan negotiations, we do need to speak more about cessation of violence,” Dr. Abdullah said.

According to the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February, the Ghani government is expected to release 5,000 prisoners, of whom about 3,000 have been released already, while the Taliban has released about half of the 1,000 Afghan forces it had committed to.

“I have discussed the issues over the peace process in the past few days with President Ashraf Ghani. We are all on the same page as far as the release of prisoners is considered,” he told scholars and diplomats from Afghanistan, China, Iran, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, India, Norway, Pakistan, the U.K. and the United States.

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