United under Afghanistan’s flag we would go to negotiating table

After nearly two decades of violence on February 29, the US and the Taliban signed a peace agreement, which facilitates withdrawal of US forces and bonds the Taliban to cut ties with al-Qaeda and ISIS, and sit with the Afghan government to discuss the future of the country.  A day after the US-Taliban agreement, President Ghani announced that his government would form an inclusive peace delegation which represent the Afghan people and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Kabul Now has talked to Nader Nadery, the chairperson of the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission and has asked him about structure and composition of an inclusive body that will discuss issues with the Taliban in the intra-Afghan dialogue.

Kabul Now: Both sides (the government and the political parties) insist that the negotiating body should be inclusive. How can the representatives of different ethnic groups, political parties, and women represent diverse social spectrum of new Afghanistan?

Nadery: There are two approaches towards inclusive body; a number of political parties, including political opposition, the Taliban and even some of [Afghanistan’s] international partners are on the same page. They want to secure their interests. The Taliban are part of the first group. They say they do not want to sit with the Afghan government and do not want to talk to the Afghan government. The Taliban represent the Pakistani narrative—a narrative that Pakistan developed 25 or 30 years ago. This approach is focused on undermining the legitimate and constitutional government of Afghanistan and instead they want to promote groups and individuals. The Taliban, by default, want to gain what Pakistan is demanding. They want to have talks with groups and individuals because groups and individuals are not united, fragile and more person-centered. The Taliban can better exploit a fragile situation to secure their interests.

The second group consists of our politicians. These politicians have been influential in the last 40 years. They have had control over institutions-which basically are public institutions. These individuals or better to say that the power of these individuals would be bypassed when institutions are developed. They (the politicians) see their power being undermined as institutions are developed, therefore, they seek their [political survival] in undermining the whole government as institution, while we know well in a weak government institution the public lose the most and the politicians gain the most. Thus, an inclusive team, from their perspective, means participation of the political parties, something similar to structure of the Bonn conference. In the Bonn conference, the political parties and factions were on the lead, and what came out of the Bonn conference was a power sharing among political factions. Now, the political factions want the same. This is what the Taliban want and this is nearly the same scenario Pakistan wants to implement in Afghanistan.

Our international partners, for example the US emphasizes us to be pragmatists, the Americans define [political realism] from their point of interests, not from our point of interests. They have signed a peace agreement with the Taliban, saying that they want to end the war. They do not realize that by signing an agreement, the war does no end. If they really want to end the war and save their prestige, they need to work for an agreement that should guarantee the future of a new political system in Afghanistan. The current affairs of talks is similar to what the American did in Vietnam, I mean the Paris Agreement. No one would believe that the Paris Agreement would last long and bring peace to Vietnam but after Paris Agreement was signed and the Americans made a face-saving withdrawal from Vietnam, then, defeat did not make sense for the Americans for they were out of Vietnam. The Americans want the Afghan factions come together on an agreement, no matter if it does not long. They will blame the Afghans if it fails and collapses apart. We the Afghans should be wise, this is our responsibility.

I will explain the second approach which is mostly supported by a number of politicians and citizens, who are concerned about [the future], support this approach. They say a number of individuals along with representatives of ethnic groups can not represent the new Afghanistan. These groups (political factions) represent the last 40 years, they no longer can represent today’s Afghanistan. In the last 20 years, a new generation, some like Zaki Daryabi, along with thousands of other women and men have emerged. They are active in our society and shape new Afghanistan. Together with the political factions and the Taliban, they, the new generation, are part of today’s Afghanistan. I do agree that all ethnic groups should be given equal representation in the negotiating team with the Taliban but at the very same time, women should also be given a representation. The negotiating team that is going to talk to the Taliban should be formed on the basis of collective interests and the Constitution of Afghanistan. And most importantly, the one who takes the lead of the Afghan negotiating team should best reflect Afghanistan’s diversity, neither the interests of an individual, nor the interests of a group. We need to create an inclusive team, a team that should represent us, protect our red lines, out dignity and values. The Taliban are united. They have a four-member negotiating team which cannot be influenced easily.

The third approach, which is supported by the government, is centered on an effective negotiation team that should represent people from various spectrum of society. This negotiating group should be composed of women and representatives of ethnic groups. It terms of number, it is should be small, in the best way a seven-membered team to represent the people in talks with the Taliban. This seven-member team is the core and permanent body of the team, but together with it, a number of professionals can get membership of the core team when required. For example when it comes to talk about security issues, a security expert will accompany the team. Our politicians mostly think about short-term interests while we as the government should prioritize our long-term interests.

Kabul Now: Has the government shared the 12-member-formula of negotiation team with interest groups? Does this formula sound practical?

Nadery: At different levels, discussions are underway but there is no conclusion on a signal structure as yet. I am sad to say that our politicians think they are separate from the rest of people, they want to make decision by their own in their circles. They have no willingness to adopt to new realities of Afghanistan, if one asks them to take few members of new generation with them in talks, they protest it, saying it is a disregard to their status.    

Kabul Now: What will come up next if the Taliban disagree with the formula you are offering? Don’t you think representatives of political factions and individuals, who cannot protect the Constitution of Afghanistan, will take the lead in the talks if the Taliban refuse your formula, If so, what is the alternative?   

Nadery: As a government, we will study all options. If we consent to what the Taliban want that is a loss for us. If they—the Taliban—keep dictating us what we have to do, it is better to surrender. The Taliban are now trying to decide everything for us; they say they would not talk to the Afghan government, they want all 5,000 Taliban prisoners released. Look at the past when they were on power. They had banned women from going outside home, they had banned TV, they had forbidden the Afghan Sikhs of doing their religious rituals, and they were forcing men to wear turban. If we take the Taliban as a victorious force, then we need to ask them for pity or sympathy. No, we as the government of Afghanistan are bound to protect our values. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan should decide, not the Taliban.     

Kabul Now: If it is decided that only 15 people from each side can participate in the talks, how we make an inclusive team that should represent all identity groups of Afghanistan?

Nadery: Our concern and focus must be on creating a ‘meaningful’ and united negotiation body, and not on the number of the Taliban. The final decision might be taken by the Parliament or the Loya Jirga. Unfortunately, our politicians only want their presence in the negotiations, and even some of them cannot trust their colleagues. How to represent everyone’s values in this situation. We have to prefer our collective interests over our personal interests.

Kabul Now: Suppose the government formula for peace will be put into effect, will the negotiating delegation be a government-led one? 

Nadery: It is the question of a representation of all spectrums of our society, our values, women, ethnic groups and new Afghanistan. What is significant is that we, united under Afghanistan’s flag, would go to negotiating table. We should be brave enough to sit under Afghanistan’s flag and represent our demands and protect our values. What is going to be shaped will come out of talks.      

Kabul Now: When the intra-Afghan negotiation will kick off and what will be discussed on the table?

Nadery: The agenda is clear. Ceasefire is the first issue. The Taliban want their prisoners released. As there are no government inmates under their custody, they take people on their ways. Disarmament is another agenda. Mechanisms for Taliban political life, providing services to Taliban-controlled areas and the issue of Taliban safe spaces, Quetta and Peshawar councils are the issues to be discussed on the table.