Afghan leaders divided over negotiating team

Afghan political factions and leaders are divided over a negotiating team which will be tasked to participate in the intra-Afghan talks set to take place on March 10 in Oslo, Norway. 

In his first press conference held soon after the US-Taliban deal was signed, the incumbent president Ashraf Ghani said that the negotiation team will be formed before the start of intra-Afghan talks. He stressed that the team would represent Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and authority of the negotiation team would be defined by Afghan government and Afghan Constitution.

At national level, the combination of the negotiation team remains the most disputed topic. Several influential figures, jihadi leaders, and politicians, who are opponents of Ghani, say the negotiation team, which is supposed to represent Afghan side in the intra-Afghan negotiation, should be inclusive and committed to all political factions.

The Afghan government, a party which has been trying to take the lead on behalf of Afghanistan in the intra-Afghan negotiations, has vowed that it would send an inclusive team to Oslo to discuss matters with the Taliban representatives. It, however, has not provided details about the ethnic composition of the government-led negotiating team.

On Saturday, President Ghani showed flexibility on composition of negotiation team, saying that the team should be capable to represent the will and demand of the people of Afghanistan.  

Afghanistan is a country where different ethnic groups are living, and every group want a true representation in the intra-Afghan talks, a process where the future of the country is discussed.      

Those politicians, who oppose Ghani’s peace policy, accuse him of monopolizing the Afghan peace process. The incumbent Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who is political rival of Ashraf Ghani, says the intra-Afghan talks is the only way that can bring peace to the country. “The parties [to peace] must see these circumstances as a historic opportunity and prefer national interests over their selective, personal, and group interests,” reads a statement issued by Mr. Abdullah.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful Uzbek leader who leads National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, Mohammad Karim Khalili, and Mohammad Mohaqiq, the two Hazara leaders, who supported of Abdullah in the 2019 presidential elections, have expressed support for the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan signed between the US and the Taliban. They have said an “inclusive negotiation team” should be formed to represent the people in the intra-Afghan talks.

 “This delegation (negotiation team) must be comprehensive, inclusive, and efficient. The citizens and all parties whose fate are bound to be impacted by peace talks must be represented in the talks,” Mr. Khalili asserted in his statement.

Difference among Afghan political elites is not the only factor that may undermine the already scheduled intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban. On Sunday, March 01, Mr. Ghani said that the Afghan government has no commitment to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners and he has shared it repeatedly with the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad – while the US-Taliban agreement clearly stipulates that 5,000 Taliban prisoners are agreed to be released in exchange with up to 1,000 prisoners of Afghan security forces by March 10, 2020, the first day of intra-Afghan negotiations.

In reaction to Ghani’s remark, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told CBS news that “there is a lot of noise and a lot of people are competing for attentions.”

With differences raised between the Afghan government and the United States over some points of the US-Taliban deal, particularly over prisoners exchange, the intra-Afghan talks in which representatives of the Afghan government will sit across the table with Taliban negotiators is more likely to be postponed.