Rattled by years of Taliban insurgency, Afghanistan on Wednesday held an international conference on peace in a bid to map the way forward to get the Taliban to denounce violence, endorse the Afghan constitution and enter into purposeful peace negotiations with government to find a political settlement to the ongoing war.
President Ashraf Ghani as part of his efforts for peace drafted a document titled “Offering Peace” in which he reiterated his call to the Taliban to join peace talks but said there would be no preconditions. However, at the same, Ghani called on Afghanistan’s international partners and the international community to support his administration’s bid for peace in the country.
In line with Wednesday’s meeting, TOLOnews’ Lotfullah Najafizada discussed the move with Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hekmat Khalil Karzai along with Gareth Bayley, British Prime Minister’s Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan and Markus Potzel, Special Representative of the German Federal Government for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Kabul Process meeting was a gathering of 25 nations and organizations including the EU, UN and NATO, and discussed ways to attain peace and stability in the country.
On whether or not the Kabul Process was any different to other peace initiatives, Karzai said there was an element of uniqueness to it especially as it was an Afghan initiative.
“What I think is unique about Kabul Process is that it is initiated, conceptualized by the Afghans, most importantly if you look at a lot of other conferences, they were focused on particular agendas. But the Kabul Process specifically focuses on peace and particularly focuses on counter-terrorism.
“This is an opportunity for Afghanistan to present its views, its vision and most importantly to get perspective and endorsement from the international community.
“In many ways, Kabul process is different, because Kabul Process is tackling the most important and pressing issue which is peace,” said Karzai.
Asked about the first Kabul Process meeting in June, which was followed by a deadly spate of attacks in Kabul, Karzai said: “Well the Kabul Process is just a name, it is a process, it is not a onetime event and the idea is first to pave the way for building or further strengthening regional consensus on many of these issues - our idea and our vision is the following; the Afghan people are tired of violence, this is a violence that is inflicted on them by outside actors; the Afghans are continuously being used as victims in this conflict and there is no military solution thus this process is emerging in the notion that we would like to start face to face dialogue with the armed opposition.”
Britain’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gareth Bayley meanwhile said that ultimately peace can only be settled through negotiation and that the Taliban needs to come to the negotiations table.
“The reason the Taliban should speak to the National Unity Government is that ultimately this can only be solved through a political process and it can only be solved by Afghans for Afghans.
“We the international community know very well that after nearly sixteen years of being involved as friends to the Afghan people that we are not key to peace, it is the Afghans who are key to peace,” said Bayley.
He said there is a firm conviction in Washington that there is no military solution to the conflict and there is the need for a peace process to run alongside a war or conflict.
Markus Potzel, Germany’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the only solution to the war was a negotiated settlement.
“We as the international community are ready to support the peace process and of course as we pointed out, neither side can win this conflict militarily. There has to be a peace offer, we look forward to tomorrow’s conference (Kabul Process) where President (Ashraf) Ghani I am quite sure has drafted a paper offering peace.
“So he will stretch out his hands to the Taliban and I can only appeal, I can only call on the Taliban to greet that hand and come to the negotiating table. Now is the time and opportunity,” he said.
Referring to the current crisis in the country, especially with regards to the high casualty toll last year, Potzel said: “It is a tragedy.” He noted however, that the majority of casualties had been killed or wounded by the Taliban.
On the issue of preconditions around talks and demands by the Taliban, Karzai said: “Setting conditions early creates barriers. One of the things that for the past decade the international community and at least the Afghan government has been saying is that the Taliban must renounce violence, they must accept the Afghan constitution and break ties with al-Qaeda. These were the sort of red lines of the Afghan government before getting into any kind of peace process.”
When asked if these conditions were still on the table, he said: “No, there is a difference, we do not have preconditions, but that does not mean we don’t have end conditions, there is a difference, we do not have preconditions to start our dialogue, but once we get into dialogue, then Afghanistan has specific red lines. Red lines for example, red line is respecting the rights of all Afghans, making sure that we do not compromise on any rights particularly for women and any Afghan.”
Regional and Pakistan roles in the peace process
Asked about the region, and Pakistan’s role in a peace process, Baley meanwhile said: “I would say, it always takes us time to asses this, but it is absolutely clear that countries of the region, if I look at the Heart of Asia process, if I look at other interactions, definitely there is a commitment made at a rhetorical level to peace in Afghanistan, owned by Afghans.”
On the role of Pakistan in peace he said: “Well, it is not for the UK to speak for Pakistan, but what I observed is after the awful atrocity of 27th of January in which over a hundred Afghans were killed by means of an ambulance bomb the levels of emotions were extremely high and yet even then Islamabad and Kabul kept talking, there were connections made, visits backward and forward between the two, capitals worked this through and that for me is the key that no terrorist act should ever disrupt or put off the will and intent of capitals to come together for peace.”
On the presence of Taliban in Pakistan, Baley said: “No state in this region should harbor a terrorist presence. No state in this region should do anything to disrupt the path for peace.”
In a question regarding the signs of change in Pakistan’s Afghan policy, Potzel meanwhile said: “I was in Pakistan two weeks ago, I met senior officials from the civilian government and the military alike and I reminded them that they should do more to fight terrorism and of course they come within their narratives, but the emphasis is that stability and peace in Afghanistan means stability in Pakistan.”
Karzai in turn said: “Afghanistan had only one request from the Pakistani establishment which was treat Afghanistan as a state. You (Pakistan) have legitimate interest, talk with a state to convey your legitimate interest, do not use proxy forces to obtain your interests. In Afghanistan there is enormous amount of pain, there is enormous amount of reservation about Pakistan. They feel that many of the insecurities stem from the people being harbored by Pakistan.”
“We want particular commitment from Pakistan. We want particular action from Pakistan and these actions are not something we just want Pakistan to take, these are actions that we will also commit ourselves to,” Karzai said.
Proxy war in Afghanistan
In answer to a question on whether the Afghan war is a proxy war, Potzel said: “Is it a proxy war in Afghanistan? I would say yes and no; from my point of view, an internal conflict that is being exacerbated, fuelled from outside, the answer of course, there has been a weak state in Afghanistan for a long time .. it is easy for outsiders coming in and using Afghanistan as a proxy war. It is a very complex conflict on different levels.”
On the issue of regional consensus for peace, Potzel said: “As president Ghani put it peace is high on the agenda, peace means the Afghan government has to talk to the Taliban directly, at the same time, there has to be a regional consensus that peace is possible, the regional countries like Pakistan, Iran, India, China, Russia should also sit down and talk and make peace possible.”
Regarding the Taliban’s past demands that there be a complete foreign troop draw back before talks can start, Potzel said: “We as the West, US and the Western countries, who are actually involved in the mission, the Resolute Support, train, assist and advise — we are here to help the Afghan people. To help also sustain the Afghan government. We don’t want to be here for ever, I mean we don’t put any deadlines, but when the state is able, and the security forces are able to protect their own citizens then OK we don’t have any business to do here anymore. So withdrawal of troops can’t be a precondition and as I said we don’t set any withdrawal deadlines but we pursue a conditions-based approach.”
On the same issue Baley said: “My concern is that a profound focus on the idea of proxy wars and regional intervention denies Afghan ownership of their own destiny and their own country. So yes, it is evidently true that the less there is a strong Afghan state and people in control of their borders, peace with region, the more regional countries will essentially ensure against their interest.
On foreign troops withdrawal he said: “I would say very clearly that this is missing the point of Afghan-owned peace. The Taliban need to speak to other Afghans if they claim to be Afghans it should be a natural process ... We are here to support you, not to be the underwriters or the interveners in Afghanistan’s destiny.”
However, Karzai strongly disagreed and said it was a proxy war being fought in the country he also said: “No sovereign country wants foreign forces on its soil, I do no want foreign forces on this Afghan ground, but at the time, it is a necessity. Why is it a necessity, because international colleagues tell us look it was from your county where I was attacked, it was from your country where terrorism stem from.”
He said meanwhile that if peace comes to Afghanistan there will be no need for foreign forces.