While US and Pakistan endeavor to convince the Taliban for a ceasefire and engaging Afghan authorities in Kabul for negotiations, the insurgent group’s insistence on foreign forces’ withdrawal continue to shape state of affairs in the country. Ironically, even when the insurgents announced they do not want to rule Afghanistan alone, the NUG’s unrelenting stance regarding the idea of a transitional government on interim basis that could include the Taliban and Afghan President’s bellicose mood showing an anomalous behavior.
- Associated Press reported on January 31 that the Taliban stated they are not seeking a monopoly on power in the future administration in Afghanistan but are looking for ways to co-exist with Afghan institutions.
The conciliatory statement was issued by the insurgent group as heightened efforts for peace are underway. The statement appears to be aimed at easing fears among those who were opposing the idea of a transitional government on an interim basis that could include the Taliban. The statement also reflects that the insurgent group might accept the current constitution of Afghanistan by compromising on its particular governance system of Islamic Emirate.
- On January 30, while addressing a huge youth gathering in Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that the key to peace is in Afghanistan and the key to war is in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Quetta.
- On January 24, Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani said that peace in Afghanistan would be the greatest asset for Pakistan’s prosperity if Islamabad changes its attitude towards Kabul and addresses the common issue of terrorism.
Ghani added that their fundamental problem with Pakistan was the latter’s inaction in removing what he termed a ‘shadow of violence’. He stated Afghanistan would be the greatest asset for Pakistan in terms of energy if Islamabad addresses the joint issue of terrorism. Ghani’s highly irresponsible remarks came at a time when Pakistan has been employing its resources towards brokering an agreement between the US and the Taliban. No country has proved to be more successful and made more sacrifices than Pakistan in curbing terrorism. While Afghanistan remains unable to curb terrorism and the trafficking of drugs and weapons, Pakistan has had to restore to the further fencing along the Durand Line as a result. Ultimately, from a Geostrategic perspective, Afghanistan a landlocked nation, is and will remain dependent on Pakistan. Ghani’s remarks also seem to be a result of his National Security Advisor’s recent India visit where New-Delhi pledged to provide Afghan government with two more attack helicopters to intensify fighting against the Taliban at a time when the US and other regional powers have been struggling to broker a ceasefire agreement to attain peace in Afghanistan.
- On January 29, Russia’s Special Representative on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov visited Pakistan to consult on the ongoing Afghan peace process.
Kabulov held a meeting with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi where both the leaders agreed to continue coordinating their positions on efforts for peace in Afghanistan. Kabulov noted that Russia and Pakistan were important stakeholders in peace and stability in Afghanistan and it was in their shared interest to support all efforts for peace and stability through their close coordination. The two sides agreed to continue regular consultations on the Afghan peace process and support regional initiatives to bring lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region. In November 2018, Russia arranged the Moscow Summit for Afghan peace where almost all stakeholders to the conflict including the Taliban, the US, Afghan officials and representatives from regional countries participated. In February 2018, Pakistan and Russia established a joint anti-terror military commission to counter the common threat of Daesh from Afghanistan.
- On January 28, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad briefed Afghan media in Kabul about progress made with the Taliban during the six-day talks in Qatar.
According to Khalilzad, significant progress has been made on vital issues with the Taliban, however, he also reiterated that there is a lot more work to be done. Khalilzad said that he encouraged the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government. He added, “Afghan security and stability is a big concern for the US and to that end we are working together to get to a comprehensive ceasefire”. On the question of establishing an interim government, Khalilzad said that it had not been discussed. In a separate interview with The New York Times, Khalilzad announced that the US and Taliban had successfully drafted a framework for a peace deal. The Afghan Taliban guaranteed that Afghan territory would not be used by Al-Qaeda and Daesh militants- a point stressed by Washington as necessary for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Additional concessions requested from the Taliban included the Taliban’s agreement to a cease-fire and to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government. Acting US Defence Secretary, Patrick Shanahan described the talks as “encouraging”. However, there is still no consensus on a timetable for a US withdrawal or a ceasefire. Earlier on January 27, 2019, Taliban spokesman said that until the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is agreed upon, progress on other issues is impossible and rejected reports about a possible “agreement on a ceasefire”. Some media reports quoting a senior Taliban leader also suggested that the insurgent group is in favour of establishing an interim government in case a deal is reached with the US. However, the authorities in Kabul have strongly opposed this idea. While addressing his nation after being briefed by Khalilzad, Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani said, “we want peace quickly, we want it soon, but we want it with prudence”. He also assured the people that their rights would not be compromised in the name of peace and that the country’s sovereignty will be upheld. He added that the Taliban has two choices at the moment – to either stand with the people of Afghanistan or be used as a tool by other countries. He said the foreign troops in the country would leave at some point, but this would be done in accordance with an orderly plan. Although, the White House and the western media seem quite optimistic regarding the progress made with the Taliban in the ongoing peace process, keeping in view major disagreements particularly centering on US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and a ceasefire, along with disagreements between authorities in Kabul and the insurgent group, the task of reaching an agreement and proceeding to the next phase of an intra-Afghan dialogue still appears to be riddled with challenges.
- On January 23, Afghanistan’s Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah said that the US has assured that any troop pullout would not affect the combat abilities of remaining forces.
Withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan remains the top condition cited by the Taliban for initiation of an intra-Afghan dialogue to end the decades long war in the country. The US and the Taliban have been in direct talks for the last five months in order to agree upon a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops. Abdullah mentioned that the US officials had stated no final decision had been made regarding the withdrawal of troops and that Washington remained committed to supporting Afghan Defence and Security institutions. While criticising the Taliban he said that a wider segment of society were not in support of the Taliban’s perception of governance (Islamic Emirate). Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik and former senior member of the Northern Alliance, leads the National Coalition of Afghanistan and is considered to be a favored candidate in the upcoming July 2019’s Presidential election.
- On January 21, a Taliban coordinated attack on a National Directorate of Security (NDS) center left at least 65 people dead in Wardak province.
A suicide attacker detonated a vehicle full of explosives close to the NDS center while four other attackers clashed with the Security Forces. Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack and called it a terrorist act. The US and Pakistan also denounced the attack. In a related incident, the Taliban targeted a convoy of Logar’s governor and intelligence chief and killed seven security guards. However, both high ranking officials escaped unhurt. Earlier on January 17, 2019, Afghan Security Forces claimed killing at least 39 Taliban fighters in Badghis province. Fighting continues in Afghanistan amid efforts for holding peace talks between the US and the Taliban.
- On January 18, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan and met with the country’s leadership to revive the stalled Afghan peace process.
The Afghan peace process which was initiated after the appointment of Khalilzad in September 2018 seems to be stuck after the Taliban refused to engage with the US envoy. Khalilzad was able to engage the insurgent group during his previous trips to the region. Before reaching Pakistan where he held meetings with Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan and Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Khalilzad had consulted with the leadership of India, China and Afghanistan. While Khalilzad praised Islamabad’s role in facilitating the Afghan peace process, PM Khan assured Pakistan’s full support to achieve peace in the neighbouring country. Some media reports suggest that Islamabad would be holding the next US-Taliban meeting. However, the Taliban warned the US not to put “tactical pressure” through regional powers and said that all talks would be directed through their political office in Qatar.
- On January 17, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad addressed Afghan media in Kabul.
Khalilzad who arrived in Kabul after concluding his visits to New-Delhi and Beijing reiterated that the road to peace would require the Taliban to sit with other Afghans, including the government, and there is consensus among all the regional partners on this point. He added that the US hopes the Taliban make peace but if they do not choose to come to the table and continue fighting, the US would stand with the Afghan people and the Afghan government and support them. Accordingly, the US, as part of the coalition, has extended ample support to Afghan Security Forces during this period. Khalilzad also stated that the US does not seek to maintain permanent military bases in Afghanistan.