Developments in Afghanistan

Peace and Reconciliation

The US Special Representative Khalilzad held consultations with the Afghan government in Kabul at the beginning of April. After his meetings, he tweeted on April 1, “We discussed the urgency of making progress on intra-Afghan dialogue.” Speaking to Radio Liberty, he said, “There is a chance that the Afghans may not reach an agreement including the Taliban and the non-Taliban, then preparations will also be needed for the (Presidential) elections, but it will be better if an agreement is sealed with the Taliban before the elections.” Khalilzad also visited Pakistan to hold consultations, inter alia, with the Chief of Army Staff, General Bajwa. 

The Afghan Presidential palace issued a statement on April 10 that a meeting between Afghan politicians and the Taliban, scheduled to take place in Qatar on April 14, had been postponed to April 19 as per the decision of the newly established Reconciliation Leadership Council, chaired by the President. Media reports suggested that the delay was on account of disagreements in the Council on the composition of the delegation for meeting with the Taliban. In a subsequent statement, the Presidential palace said that the meeting, scheduled for April 20-21, had been cancelled as the Qatar government did not accept the Afghan delegation proposed by the Reconciliation Leadership Council and suggested a new list, which was not acceptable to the Afghan government. The delegation proposed by the Council had swelled to 250 in an attempt to build consensus and included some government officials “in their personal capacity”. In a sign of divisions within Afghanistan, it did not include some powerful figures in the Afghan politics. The Taliban were reported to be uncomfortable with the size of the delegation, its composition and inclusion of some government officials in it. (They have so far refused to engage with the Afghan government). “The creators of the Kabul list must realize that this is an orderly and prearranged conference in a far-away country and not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman. Thus this attempt to arrange an intra-Afghan dialogue failed. Expressing his disappointment at the cancellation of the meeting, Khalilzad said that he was in touch with all parties and everyone remained committed to dialogue and the Afghan peace process. 

A meeting of the representatives of the US, Russia and China in Moscow on the Afghan peace process concluded with consensus on the following key points: respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, support for an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process and encouragement to the Taliban to participate in peace talks with a broad, representative Afghan delegation that includes the government as soon as possible, support to the Afghan government efforts to combat international terrorism and extremist organizations in Afghanistan, a call upon all the parties to agree on immediate and concrete steps to reduce violence and recognition of the Afghan people’s desire for a comprehensive ceasefire, orderly and responsible withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of the overall peace process and an appeal to the regional countries to support the above consensus. The meeting also took note of the Taliban’s commitment to fight Daesh and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ETIM and other international terrorist groups and ensure that the areas they control will not be used to threaten any other country. It was decided to hold the next trilateral meeting in Beijing.
Taliban announce spring offensive

Even as the peace efforts were not making much headway, the Taliban announced their annual spring offensive on April 12. The US Special Representative called the announcement “reckless”, which demonstrated the Taliban’s indifference to the demands of Afghans across the country. He added that many Talibs including fighters and some leaders opposed this announcement. Condemning the announcement of spring offensive, he called upon Pakistan, Qatar and other nations to do likewise. He also stated that the US and its international partners will stand with the Afghan security forces to continue the effort to end the war in Afghanistan. Describing the offensive announcement as illegitimate, a statement issued by the Afghan Presidential palace called upon those Taliban who were against the announcement to stand with the Afghans and oppose It. President Ghani had earlier approved on April 2 a security plan for the current solar year and the statement underlined the Afghan government’s readiness to defend every corner of the country. Media reports referred to intensification of fighting across the country after the announcement of the offensive. 

Extension of Presidential term

The Afghan Supreme Court ruled that President Ashraf Ghani can stay in office, beyond the completion of his term in May, till the Presidential election, due to be held on September 28. The election, originally due in July, was postponed twice to September to allow more time to prepare for it. The Supreme Court ruling came in the backdrop of calls by the opposition politicians to the President to step down on the completion of his term to pave the way for an interim government to oversee the peace talks with the Taliban. 

Peace Jirga meets

The Grand Consultative Jirga on Peace (Peace Jirga), convened by President Ghani, began its deliberations spanning four days on April 29 with the participation of 3200 delegates from all over the country. A number of Presidential candidates, including the Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah boycotted the Jirga, which was seen as an attempt by the President to build support for himself in the face of the US-Taliban talks, in which he has looked increasingly marginalized, and for the forthcoming Presidential election, in which he is seeking a second term. A spokesman of Chief Executive Abdullah said, “Considering that half of the government, prominent political parties, political leaders and presidential candidates are not attending, the Afghan people can judge where the Jirga’s legitimacy is.” Two days before the commencement of Jirga, former President Karzai called upon the President to delay it to prevent its possible negative impact on the ongoing peace efforts. President Ghani had invited the Taliban also to the Jirga. However, they boycotted it, calling it “enemy’s conspiracy under the name of Jirga.” Addressing the Jirga, President Ghani said that it would seek ways to end war and violence in the country. He added that he was not in favour of “hasty” agreements on peace. The Jirga took the following key decisions:-

a) Taliban should end violence and bloodshed and take part in the country’s development
b) There should be a unified view of Islam by the Taliban and the country’s religious scholars
c) The Afghan government and the Taliban should agree on immediate ceasefire starting from the first day of Ramadan
d) The Islamic Republic system and the Afghan constitution should be preserved and if needed, amendments should be brought to it through legitimate mechanisms
e) The basic rights of all Afghans, including women’s rights and their rights for education, should be preserved in the peace process
f) A strong Afghan National Defence Force is a need for ensuring durable peace in the country
g) Call on the involved parties and countries in the peace process to provide the ground for opening of the Taliban’s political office in Afghanistan
h) Preparation of a timeline for “responsible” withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan
i) Call on the international community and countries in the region to coordinate their peace efforts with the Afghan government and place it in the centre of those efforts

In his closing remarks, President Ghani expressed the readiness of his government to announce a ceasefire, if the Taliban were willing to do so. He also announced the release of 175 Taliban prisoners as a gesture of goodwill and called upon the Taliban to send a delegation to Kabul or another province of the country to receive the prisoners. 

Afghanistan-Pakistan relations

The Pakistan government shelved a World Bank funded project of Pakistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan Trade and Transit Agreement (PATTTA) because of insistence of the Afghan government to link it to permission for their trucks to pass through the Attari-Wagah border. At the meeting of the Finance Ministers of the three countries in the margins of the spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, the Afghan Finance Minister took the strong position that regional connectivity would not mean much to his country unless Afghan trucks carrying goods to and from India were allowed to pass through the Attari-Wagah border. It may be noted that Pakistan and Afghanistan have also not been able to implement the Afghan Transit and Trade Agreement of 2010.

Taking note of the recent upsurge in violence in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Pakistan would not be part of any internal conflict in Afghanistan and added that the process of dialogue presented a historic opportunity for peace in the region. He also stated that it was not right for the parties concerned to seek an edge in dialogue through coercion. Welcoming Imran Khan’s statement, Khalilzad said that it had the “potential to positively transform the region and give Pakistan a leading role.”

May 10, 2019


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About the Author

Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal

Former Indian Ambassador to Pakistan and Uzbekistan and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre

Mr Sharat Sabharwal joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1975. After serving in various positions in the Permanent Mission of India to the UN in Geneva and the Indian Missions in Madagascar, France and Mauritius, he was Director/Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi from 1990 to 1995. The positions held by him subsequently have been Deputy High Commissioner of India in Pakistan (1995-99), Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the UN in Geneva (1999-2002), Ambassador of India to Uzbekistan (2002-2005) and Additional Secretary/Special Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs (September 2005-March 2009).

Mr. Sabharwal was High Commissioner of India to Pakistan from April 2009 to June 2013.

He was appointed Central Information Commissioner in November, 2013 and served in this position till September, 2017.
Mr. Sabharwal has been Deputy leader/member of the Indian delegations to the UN General Assembly, the erstwhile UN Commission on Human Rights, International Labour Conference and World Health Assembly. He was also the Deputy Leader of the Indian delegation to the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent held in Geneva in October 1999 and member of the Indian delegation to the World Conference against Racism, held in Durban in September 2001.

Mr. Sabharwal holds a post graduate degree in Political Science. He speaks English and French besides Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi.

Mr. Sabharwal has been an author at the Indian Express, The Hindu, India Today, The Tribune and The Wire.