New US plan could erase decades of progress in Afghanistan | Asian News

Over the weekend, US Special Representative for Reconciliation in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad shared with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Afghan opposition and civil society leaders and Taliban negotiators a new plan for the ongoing peace process.

The proposed roadmap calls for a United Nations-led international conference with regional participation to be held in Turkey later this month to oversee the establishment of an interim government and the signing of a sharing agreement. power between Afghan political factions – including those that do. currently no seat at the negotiating table – and the Taliban.

The proposal is the first step the Biden administration has taken to revive stalled peace talks before May 1, when the last 2,500 U.S. troops are due to leave Afghanistan under a February 2020 deal between the Taliban and the former Trump administration.

The current intra-Afghan talks in Doha between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which began last September with high hopes thanks to the US-Taliban agreement, are increasingly seen as incapable of meeting this timetable, due to perceived disengagement from negotiations and high levels of violence on the ground.

The proposed roadmap made it clear to all parties concerned that the Biden administration is committed to the US-Taliban deal – an important step that will help keep the Taliban at the negotiating table. Additionally, the sharp tone of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s letter to President Ghani about the roadmap, which leaked to the media earlier this week, indicated that the new US administration is blaming the Ghanaian government, and not the Taliban, for blocking the peace process.

The draft plan has certainly revived the Doha talks, with the Afghan parties meeting almost daily since its announcement. However, the proposal also has several shortcomings and could prove detrimental to long-term peace.

The fundamental problem with the proposed plan is its assumption that changing the venue for talks and inviting more parties to the negotiating table (regardless of their legitimacy) would resolve the obstacles encountered so far. However, such changes could not only lead to the failure of the proposal, but also erase the gains made in statebuilding, democratic representation and the rule of law in Afghanistan over the past 20 years.

Why Turkey?

At first glance, the choice of Turkey as the new home for the Afghan peace process seems promising for the mediation of a lasting agreement. As a NATO troop-contributing country, Turkey can monitor compliance with the ceasefire on the ground. In addition, he is able to work closely both with the United States, which seeks to restore ties with Ankara damaged under the Trump administration, and with Pakistan, which has formed a strategic alliance with Turkey. these last years. It is important that the country hosting the peace process has close ties to Pakistan, as Islamabad is well placed to put pressure on the Taliban.

Turkey also has a vested interest in the current political situation in Afghanistan, as it has granted asylum to many Afghan activists and intellectuals threatened by the ongoing wave of assassinations. As a predominantly Muslim country, it could make reasonable arrangements for negotiators if talks go on until Ramadan. And, like Qatar, Turkey has a long-standing positive record of engagement in mediation.

Will moving the process to Turkey get anywhere?

And yet moving the peace process to Turkey would probably not produce much, as the change is not backed by a request for formal mediation by the Afghan parties. We have seen throughout the peace talks in Qatar that “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led” negotiations do not bear fruit without formal mediation. The little progress on the agenda since the start of the talks was only achieved after the two sides accepted Qatar’s offer to facilitate relations between them.

A formal mediating role is also clearly needed to avoid miscommunication issues, such as the absence of the Taliban from the table after the January break, which the group said was due to team members contracted COVID-19 abroad and simply did not notify anyone. about their delayed return.

With nothing to indicate that Ankara has been asked to formally mediate between the two sides, it is unrealistic to expect further talks in Turkey to show swift and positive results.

In addition, moving the talks to Turkey is not necessary to gain Ankara’s support for the process. Turkey is one of Qatar’s closest allies and has enthusiastically supported many of Doha’s past mediation efforts. Turkey might even prefer that the talks stay in Doha, as it would not want to erase the gains already made there, or damage its relations with Qatar.

Members of both Afghan sides have spent several months working to establish informal points of dialogue and develop the foundations for mutual understanding. Resetting the process and starting over in Turkey erases these vital confidence-building gains, the importance of which should not be underestimated in such a complex and polarized conflict.

A regional solution?

Another problematic aspect of the Biden administration’s plan is the emphasis on “regional participation”. While the proposed inclusion of representatives of regional stakeholders – Iran, India, Pakistan, Russia and China – in the peace talks helps Biden demonstrate his commitment to multilateralism, it also indicates that the United States believes the solution to Afghanistan’s problems will come from the region. – a notion that most Afghans despise.

Moreover, the clumsy way of launching the call for regional participation raises questions about the degree of thoughtfulness of the whole roadmap. Indeed, the United States presented its proposal to each party in a way that gave the impression that it had already been discussed with the other parties concerned. Ultimately, however, it became clear that the plans for this “regional” conference had not been discussed in advance with any substantial party, including the proposed host, Turkey.

Rearrange the table

Likewise, the United States’ call for adding new parties to the negotiating table requires careful consideration. The inclusion of Afghanistan’s traditional strongmen and the leaders of its main political factions in the proposed conference in Turkey would no doubt appeal to the Taliban. The group has long criticized the absence of powerful politicians in the Afghan government’s negotiating team and demands to speak to “those in authority”.

However, the beauty of the current arrangement in Doha is that the government’s negotiating team itself represents a milestone in Afghan politics. It was born out of a state structure that took 20 years of investment by the Afghan people and the international community to be put in place, to the detriment of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.

Going back to the grand approaches to elite power used in 1992 and 2001, and bringing most of the same strongmen or perhaps their sons back to the negotiating table, would undermine the enormous sacrifices that enabled Afghanistan to make these grand step forward.

Despite all the weaknesses of the state today, most Afghans agree that the institutional structures that have been built over the past 20 years have reduced the strongman’s dominance over the country and brought them under control. rule of law. Their reintegration into the negotiations on the future of the nation would pave the way for the erasure of many democratic gains, from the empowerment of women and minorities to the widespread commitment to a non-violent policy. How can the Taliban be expected to be convinced of the state’s popular legitimacy if alternative arrangements can be implemented overnight?

Yet an American proposal in itself creates as many problems as it seeks to solve. The continued US mediation between the Afghan parties, in a conflict to which they are also parties, underscores for the Taliban in particular the reasons why they launched a war against foreign intervention in the first place.

All is not lost

While the plan proposed by the Biden administration is unlikely to save the US-Taliban deal and pave the way for lasting peace in Afghanistan in its current form, all is not lost. Stalled peace talks can be further revitalized with a few simple steps and considerations.

It must be recognized that some of the delays and complications encountered during the Doha talks are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated travel restrictions. It is difficult for all parties to meet the agreed timetable as the entire world is at a standstill due to a global public health emergency. Extending the May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops on this basis could ensure that neither team is blamed for the delays and increase the possibility of reaching a deal.

An international conference aimed at supporting, rather than replacing, the ongoing Doha process could also be jointly convened by the UN, Turkey and Qatar to help advance intra-Afghan negotiations. In the meantime, Turkey could be integrated into the Doha process through the host country’s support group, which currently includes Germany, Indonesia, Norway and Uzbekistan. Some form of formal mediation or facilitation by the host supported by the group is essential, given the experience of the past six months.

Finally, the United States might be encouraged to remember the losses it has suffered in the past when it has attempted to complete complex interventions under tight deadlines. When Washington focuses on deadlines rather than the needs of recipient countries, it risks making serious and destructive mistakes. If the Biden administration stops focusing on the short-term gains of meeting deadlines and prioritizes creating the most appropriate conditions for a lasting peace, a lasting intra-Afghan deal can be reached in due course. .

The ongoing Doha process offers the most important opportunity in 20 years to achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan. The United States and the international community should support rather than hinder these efforts.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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