News Desk |
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Envoy for Afghan peace, reached Kabul on Sunday night, as part of his multi-state journey to promote peace, marking his fourth visit to Afghanistan. On Monday, Khalilzad began consultations with the Ghani-led government and other Afghan political stakeholders, briefing them over the status of US negotiations with the Taliban, and emphasizing the measures for promoting an intra-Afghan dialogue.
Khalilzad took to Twitter to announce his meeting with President Ghani’s Chief of Staff Abdul Salam Rahimi and Special Envoy Umer Daudzai, he tweeted, “We discussed the urgency of making progress on intra-Afghan dialogue.” Khalilzad also had a “productive meeting” Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and Foreign Minister Salah Rabbani on how the international community can support the incumbent Kabul government in an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” peace process.
In Kabul, a nervous and agitated President Ghani, who is seeking to be reelected in the upcoming elections, is anxious for Ambassador Khalilzad to materialize an intra-Afghan dialogue.
Khalilzad also met with other officials and Afghan analysts, along with representatives of the Afghan Women’s Network to ensure all stakeholders that women and non-Taliban Afghan leaders will be included in the peace process. He tweeted, “We agree that intra-Afghan dialogue should be comprehensive and inclusive with representatives from the #Afghan government, women, young people, and civil society.”
Taliban Leverage Military Success
Despite being engaged in talks with the United States, the Taliban continues to stage major attacks on Afghan security forces. On 1st April, the Afghan officials reported the death of 19 Afghan soldiers killed in Taliban attacks in the provinces of Sar-e-Pul and Badghis. While speaking to Reuters, an unnamed Taliban leader revealed that the group has had a meeting to discuss the name and timing of its spring campaign in response to the “Khaled” spring operation launched by the Afghan security forces.
The Taliban leader said that the group tends to focus more on “targeted operations” and reducing civilian casualties. He also mentioned that certain Taliban leaders had suggested the continuation of ongoing operations while awaiting the outcome of the peace negotiations with the US, however, the Taliban have decided to respond to the “Khaled” operation with a spring offensive of their own operation. Zabihullah Mujahid, cited by Reuters, revealed that the Taliban will launch their spring offensive in a month when the weather is warmer.
On Sunday, the Taliban were able to force the Afghan-US forces to retreat from the Baharak district of northern Badakhshan province, laying claim to a large area. Last week, the Taliban had attacked the convoy of Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Afghan vice president, as it was passing through the province of Balkh. The former Uzbek warlord managed to escape unhurt, but the Taliban swiftly claimed the attack and boasted the death of Dostum’s bodyguards.
Statements issued by Abdullah’s office read that Gen Miller reaffirmed the support of the coalition in “counter-terrorism operations” and achieving the Afghan demands of a “fair and lasting peace agreement”.
While commenting on the Afghan peace process in a debate by the Middle East Institute, Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Centre, noted that negotiations is the only way forward. However, it is important to ensure an intra-Afghan dialogue. He said, “The Taliban, which unlike America has no urgency to get a deal, has much of the leverage. Also, the current talks have excluded Kabul, which raises the possibility of the Afghan government getting shut out of its own peace process. And even if there’s a deal, paving the way for a U.S. withdrawal, the insurgents could take up arms again once American troops have left.”
Possibility of an Intra-Afghan Dialogue?
In Kabul, a nervous and agitated President Ghani, who is seeking to be reelected in the upcoming elections, is anxious for Ambassador Khalilzad to materialize an intra-Afghan dialogue. On Saturday, President Ghani met with local Afghan leaders at a consultative meeting, which included former President Hamid Karzai and head of the High Peace Council Mohammad Karim Khalili amongst others. TOLO News reports that this consultative meeting was held to present a “unified stance on the peace process” and consult the Afghan leaders on measures needed to encourage the Taliban to come to the negotiation table.
While speaking to AFP, a senior Taliban leader revealed that the group might be considering dialogue with the Ghani-led government officials “as independent politicians” in future sessions to be held in Doha. However, the Afghan forces are being pushed back with heavy military losses, and tensions continue to soar as the on-ground military successes of the Taliban garner them more leverage in the peace process.
In a meeting with the Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Gen Scott Miller, the Commander of the NATO-led support mission and US-forces, reinstated the support of the alliance in aiding the Afghan security forces in their war against the Taliban. Statements issued by Abdullah’s office read that Gen Miller reaffirmed the support of the coalition in “counter-terrorism operations” and achieving the Afghan demands of a “fair and lasting peace agreement”.
While speaking to Ayza Umar on her TV Show, News Wire, Osman Sharifi, a Kabul-based journalist, observed that while many Afghans are concerned that the peace talks might fail, the majority realizes that there is a great opportunity to bring peace and end to a 17-year long conflict. Sharifi noted that an intra-Afghan dialogue had occurred when local Afghan leaders met with the Taliban leadership in Moscow.
“Now it seems like there will be another big intra-Afghan meeting, we think sometime in mid-April”, observed Sharifi. While referring to Ghani’s consultative meeting with Afghan leaders, many of whom had attended the Moscow talks, Sharifi noted that in future, the Taliban are likely to witness some level of “national unity” and “government presence” in the intra-Afghan peace talks.
Mina Jahangir with additional input by News Desk.