What challenges undermine intra-Afghan talks?

The intra-Afghan talks set to be held on March 10, seems to be delayed as Afghan leaders are divided over major agenda of the talks, notably over composition of a negotiating team.  

Dispute over prisoner exchange has divided Afghan leaders, with President Ghani saying it is the authority of the Afghan people to decide while some other Afghan leaders disagree with him. Even tensions over disputed final results of the presidential elections have added more to differences that have divided the Afghan leaders and politicians.     

The two government leaders—Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah—have set March 09 as date of their oath-taking ceremonies in Kabul—a day before start of intra-Afghan talks.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is now in Kabul meeting with Afghan political leaders to find a breakthrough for election related differences among political elites and pave the ground for formation of an inclusive negotiation team to talk with the Taliban, as Abdullah stated in his exclusive interview with TOLOnews.

Spokesperson for State Ministry for Peace Affairs, Najia Anwari, says that there is no barrier and the Afghan government is ready to start intra-Afghan talks on the set date, March 10.

Undermined by election related disputes

Afghanistan’s presidential election and peace talks are two national issues that have put the country in uncertainty. Mr. Abdullah, who claims to have won the 2019 votes, contested the final results of the elections, while the country’s election commission declared Mr. Ghani as winner of it. These tensions have caused the Afghan government not to succeed in forming a negotiation team.

According to Abdul Hafiz Mansoor, a former MP, Ghani and Abdullah are divided over the lead of the negotiating team in the intra-Afghan talks. He added that these differences have put a negative impact on peace talks. Another challenge, as he believes, Ghani is trying to use the issue of prisoner swap as a means to exert influence in election related issues.

“Except the state builder team (Ghani’s team), all others including Hekmatyar, stability and partnership [team], and Nabil have agreed to give space for others in the negotiation team for peace talks which is a national issue,” Mr. Mansoor claimed.

Khwaja Bashir Ahmad Ansari, a political commentator, believes that the election related disputes have made it impossible for Afghan government and the Taliban to sit around a negotiating table. To overcome the challenge, he urges all parties to leave their differences aside and act cohesively. Furthermore, he, thinks that the United States is intentionally working to fuel differences between Ghani and Abdullah.

“The Americans are persuading both teams to hold separate oath-taking ceremonies in a bid to pave the ground for establishing an interim administration,” he claimed.

Abbass Faraso, who is a researcher on Afghanistan, thinks that there are many challenges ahead of peace process in Afghanistan, noting that the US-Taliban agreement which is not a peace agreement is also facing many challenges. “If the Taliban continue to use violence, challenge will be multiplied,” he warned.

Prisoner exchange is not main barrier

Based on the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan signed between the Taliban representatives and US chief negotiator Khalilzad on Saturday, February 29, 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 prisoners of Afghan government should be released before the start of intra-Afghan talks. The issue of prisoners’ swap got complex after President Ghani said in a presser in Kabul that the Afghan government has not made any commitment to release the Taliban prisoners. It is part of the peace agenda in the intra-Afghan talks, Ghani stressed.

Flashing back to the unconditional release of around 1,000 Taliban prisoners which took place months earlier, Mr. Mansoor, argued that Ghani was exploiting the issue of prisoner exchange to exert influence on America’s position over Afghanistan election results. “Release of prisoners has never been raised as a fundamental problem. The stability and partnership team (Abdullah’s bloc) has no problem with it,” he asserted.

At odds with Ghani, Abdullah expressed his agreement with release of prisoners, noting that prisoners’ release must be part of the peace process.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Anwari argues that authority of releasing Taliban prisoners rest with the Afghan government and it will decide over the issue. She added that making prisoners’ release a pre-condition to start intra-Afghan talks could jeopardize the peace process.

According to her, the Afghan government is determined and ready to start peace talks with the Taliban. “[Things] are almost finalized. We are fully prepared until the negotiations start,” she said, adding that the negotiation team was ready five months ago with President Ghani and peace minister are currently working to finalize the team.

Spokesperson for Taliban’s office in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, has reiterated on implementation of the provisions of the agreement and release of the Taliban prisoners. “If the negotiations are delayed beyond the stated date, the responsibility will rest with the others,” he said.

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