As Afghanistan’s peace talks crawl along in Doha, Kabul Now has spoken with Mohammad Amin Ahmadi, a prominent member of the government peace negotiating team. Mr. Ahmadi, who holds a PhD in Islamic theology, has served as senior member of the legal board at the Ministry of Higher Education and senior member of the supreme council at the Ministry of Higher Education. Ahmadi teaches law and Islamic studies at Avicenna University, Kabul. He is Chancellor of Avicenna University, too. Mohammad Amin Ahmadi has published several publications on Islam, culture and human rights.
KN: During your stay in Kabul, have you consulted with the President and chairperson of Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR)? Which institution—office of the president or HCNR—leads the Afghan peace process? To which office, the government-led peace delegation is accountable?
Ahmadi: First of all let me make it clear, the HCNR is mandatory to develop and outline peace policies. The HCNR is comprised of government leadership, chairperson of the High Council for National Reconciliation, high profile political figures and some high-ranking government authorities including Afghanistan’s national security adviser and foreign minister. I dare say the composition of HCNR is a national and inclusive one, and according to a political agreement, the HCNR is the only national chamber authorized to make decision on peace process. The government negotiating team, however, consults with the President and the leadership council of HCNR—it is not contradictory to our mandate, we can consult with both the President and HCNR leadership.
KN: Do you think the differences, existing between the President and HCNR over lead of peace process, undermine the [stance] of government-led peace negotiating team in talks with the Taliban?
Ahmadi: I think, the quote-unquote difference between the Palace and Sapidar is not a serious matter of concern. These differences and obstacles are not that serious. The necessity of Afghanistan, I think, pushes us to a direction in which we need to have a united stance [when it comes to talks with the Taliban].
KN: What are government’s redlines on the future political setup, ceasefire and interim government?
Ahmadi: A committee of technical affairs has been founded within the structure of leadership council of HCNR. As per its mandate, the negotiating team will find solutions for technical issues and the council of leadership will [discuss] the solutions and approve them.
There are some redlines: the political setup must be an elected and democratic system which must be elected through a free and fair election, the basic rights of every citizen must be protected, human rights must be preserved as obliged by the Constitution—which is not contrary to Islamic values—and women rights and freedom of expression must be protected as obliged by the Constitution. There are other redlines: the institutions, which have been developed over last two decades, must be protected; I mean the security institution, the judiciary, the media organizations, private sector. We cannot afford destroy these institutions and rebuild them, in one way or another, we have to protect our hard-gained [achievements] and develop them.
But how to frame these redlines and protect these values, in a way that should be satisfactory for the Taliban, requires a technical work and we need to work on them and reach on an agreement.
KN: What are the agendas of talks in the second round?
Ahmadi: Ceasefire is our priority in the second round of talks. First of all, an end to violence and war is what people of Afghanistan want, second of all, from perspective of Islam, this war, I mean the ongoing war in Afghanistan, is no longer justifiable. We need to put an end to it. Third of all, we need to discuss [future] of republic system of governance or an alternate for it in a peaceful environment. We also need to discuss the basic rights of people of Afghanistan, the status of Islam in government system and in legislation. When violence and war continue, it means, the two sides desire to impose their views on each other by force—this is contradictory to Islamic spirit and Islam, by principle and standard, is against such a war.
But Taliban’s priority is different from those set of ours. They prioritize a number of things which [they think] shape the future political system. They are of opinion that human rights, basic rights of citizens, and women rights, as entitled in the Constitution, are “out of framework of Islam” and the Taliban want to redefine these values within the framework of Islam.
KN: Is protection of basic rights of citizens, which are entitled in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a priority in talks with the Taliban? If yes, how would you defend basic rights of citizens in talks with them? Does the government negotiating team or do you personally have any idea or strategy?
Ahmadi: we have developed two strategies to protect these values. Firstly, in talks at the negotiating table, we, from perspective of Islam, will make a reasonably sound argument and argue that values such as democracy, free and fair elected-government, basic rights of citizens, women rights and freedom of expression, as entitled in the Constitution, are not contrary to Islam. We will make a strong religiously-backed argument on immediate end to violence and war. For example, Article number three of the Constitution clarifies the status of Islam in legislation and governance. We can support our argument by referring to Article number three of the Constitution as a key and fundamental talking point. Chapter number two of the Constitution specifies basic rights of citizens and other fundamental rights, which are not contrary to Islam. Secondly, in defense of these values, we truly think people and the interest groups are entitled to basic rights. People, as the interest groups, who have deep sense of entitlement to their rights, can defend and protect their rights and we can refer to their legal arguments and defend their rights at the peace negotiating table with the Taliban.
KN: Do the Taliban want interim government to be placed?
Ahmadi: The Taliban do not want an interim government in place. No, they want a regime that must be chosen by a ruler, [an authority equal to position supreme ruler]. The fundamental difference between the regime the Taliban propose and republic government is that they want an emir-centered-government while a republic system, firstly, is founded on foundation of citizen rights, and secondly, it is established on basis of institutions such as the judiciary, the legislation and the executive body of a state. The Taliban propose a ruler-centered regime and they want to discuss procedures for choosing the ruler at the negotiating table. They are of view that if we reach on procedure of choosing the ruler at the table of talks, the future setup will be shaped and there would be no need to have an interim government in place.
An interim setup is not pivotal for the Taliban, but it seems that the international community is convinced that Afghanistan’s conflict will not be resolved at the negotiating table. They prefer that the two sides need to reach into an agreement on key issues before signing a peace agreement, and to implement provisions of the agreement, an interim arrangement should be shaped. Given the limitations Afghanistan has, we cannot refuse the demand made by the international community.
KN: To secure peace, is interim government a proper mechanism or no the interim government is something inevitable?
Ahmadi: In the absence of agreement—I mean when nothing is agreed between us—an interim government is a wrong choice and it is a kind of “multiplying everything by zero.” It is risky and the Taliban too will not consent to such a setup. Therefore, an interim government must be founded on basis of an agreement. For example, the agreement must guarantee that the incumbent government and the Constitution should be preserved and some other points which are debatable must be discussed and what is agreed on must be added as appendix to the Constitution and the future arrangement, the interim government, should be founded on the basis of the Constitution and its appendix—often a third party sees this way as a good exit.
KN: Will there be a consensus on interim government?
Ahmadi: There is no clear picture about interim government. Interim government, in a sense to multiply everything by zero, is not acceptable for all internal parties (the government and political factions) and it pushes the country to abyss of disintegration. But if an interim government is founded on basis of a mutual agreement with government institutions and basic values preserved, it is possible and we are likely to reach an agreement on it with the Taliban. In this case, we will have some difference of views in the republic camp but we can settle our differences at the end of the day.
KN: What can we do to steer the middle path between the stance of government and position of the Taliban, the government wants to preserve its setup and the Taliban stress on regime change, can an adjustment in political system lead to a win-win agreement?
Ahmadi: The republic system of government and the Constitution are potentially ripe [to give enough space to each side] to reach a win-win agreement. As I mentioned, we reach to a win-win agreement and implement its provisions if we make a transitional arrangement [on basis of the Constitution].
KN: Based on what element—ethnicity or political faction—can a power-sharing deal be inked? Does the government negotiating team propose any mechanism for power-sharing in upcoming settlement which seems likely to be signed?
Ahmadi: The question of power-sharing is based on hypothesis that we are supposed to shape an interim arrangement. This arrangement is similar to “Bonn [arrangement]” and it (Bonn arrangement) can serve as a model which can ensure an inclusive participation of diverse social groups and at simultaneously the Taliban can also be sure to have participation in power-sharing. We take all factors in consideration. Such an arrangement is likely to take shape. We have thought about how to develop mechanism for power-sharing on such a base but we are likely to reach to such an arrangement in the future.
KN: What kind of governing system do the Taliban want to have in place? The terms Islamic system, national ruler (emir) and Islamic council are key Taliban words leaked to media, what do they want to portray by these terms? Is the Taliban-proposed regime is a Sunni version Velayat-e-Faqih of Iran?
Ahmadi: The proposed governing system of the Taliban is similar to Iran’s Walayat-e-Faqih but it conveys a specific concept about governance. The Taliban fundamentally believe that a ruler is [the only] source of legitimacy—they insist that a ruler should be qualified as per standards of sharia. They think that when a ruler is chosen in a sharia-based procedure and when he picks a government then the very government is a religiously sharia-based government. In Taliban style of government, all government institutions are designed by a ruler.
But the question is who will appoint the ruler? Based on Taliban’s ideal, which refers to historical experience of the Muslims and [the same experience] has turned out into a theory, Shoura-e-Al-hall wal-aqd, a council of those qualified to appoint or depose a ruler, will appoint ruler. According to model theorized by some Muslim jurists, [members of] Shoura-e-Al-hall wal-aqd should have political, military and jurisprudence expertise. But the Taliban do not have any exact answers on who should appoint the very Shoura-e-Al-hall wal-aqd. In some cases, they have said that Shoura-e-Al-hall wal-aqd will be appointed by emir or ruler.
What I say, as a matter of fact, is based on Taliban ruling guidance published in the past; I have not heard them recognizing a free and fair elected political system but when they refuse to recognize a free and fair elected government system, which means they prefer their own style of government that is based on Shoura-e-Al-hall wal-aqd. The Taliban might prefer Shoura-e-Al-hall wal-aqd style of governance for they had proposed such an idea for future setup and so far they have not proposed any new idea in this regard. If they keep insisting upon their ideal shura, we can conclude that they want Shoura-e-Al-hall wal-aqd style of government.
KN: Is there any solution or mechanism for power-sharing within the Islamic system of governing? Is there any exit?
Ahmadi: When the Taliban talk about Islamic system of government, it means, they have reservation about official title of the government. The two sides agree on the nature of the system as being Islamic but the Taliban do not consent to term “republic” [be put in the official name of Afghanistan], and they want to replace it with something else.
I think, to address the demand raised by the Taliban, we, by bringing slight amendment in the Constitutions, can further consolidate Islamic system within the framework of current system. It is significantly important for us, we need to have a policy for every single Islamic and sharia-based demand of the Taliban. For example, we must have a policy for hijab, for virtue and vice, we need to have a policy, given that our policy should not violate basic rights of individuals and it must not undertake a strict policing of people and shrink public space.
KN: Do the Taliban recognize Shia sect as a formal sect in Afghanistan or they just respect Shia as sect as indicated in Qanon Ahwal Shakhsya-e-Shiaan Afghanistan? If the Taliban refuse to recognize Shia as a formal sect in Afghanistan, do you think their stance puts Shia at risk?
Ahmadi: We can raise the matter of [Shia] sect in many ways: we want to know if being Shia is a crime? Can an individual be Shia? From Taliban perspective, Shia is a branch of Muslim faith and being Shia is not banned. Shias can do their rituals and ceremonies and preach their teachings as guided by Qanoon Ahwal Shakhsya-e-Shiaan Afghanistan. But the Taliban are trying to impose Sunni jurisprudence as the only source of legislation in Afghanistan, a demand which does not produce much tension but it is beyond what the Taliban perceive: when we take Sunni jurisprudence as the only source of legislation, we actually discriminate the followers of Shia faith. Yes, it puts the Shias at risk of being discriminated—from point of view of human rights, it matters. It is not a religious topic, it is a sheer human rights issue.
KN: What strategy do you have against Taliban’s exclusive approach about Shias? Are the government-led peace negotiators united against Taliban’s exclusive approach on this matter?
Ahmadi: Sure, the government-led negotiating team, as a team, is united. We have made a commitment to build a government in which every single citizen is entitled to enjoy equal rights and all citizens should be entitled to enjoy basic human rights. This is the foundation of nation-building project. This topic is a serious matter of ethical, political and national interest for people of Afghanistan. We are united to advocate for this issue. Over last 20 years, we made a good experience, generally speaking, in human rights and citizen rights, but practically speaking, there were and are lapses. It is a matter of time, it takes time to act and behave as guided by law. For example, it took the America 300 years to endorse citizen rights but there are lapses in the US too and struggle for equal rights continue there too.
KN: With second round of talks beginning, can we expect the Taliban agree to a ceasefire?
Ahmadi: Ceasefire is a dream for us. But the Taliban are reluctant to agree to a ceasefire—this is what that makes the task very difficult. I think, we need to have an anti-war movement right now in Afghanistan. People from all corners of life should come together on a single platform to put political pressure on the Taliban, demanding them to put an immediate end to violence. We hope the Taliban would consent to a ceasefire.
A third party, I think, can play a facilitating role if our plan for ceasefire fails. An influential third facilitating party can propose a temporary ceasefire and the Taliban can guarantee that we can reach to a settlement during temporary truce.
It is significantly vital for us to undertake responsibility, a collective responsibility, to decide our fates. It is we, who are responsible at this stage. We have to have a deep sense of entitlement for our common fate and shared future. Our media is ethically responsible to bring out this voice. We collectively can change Afghanistan’s peace process into an opportunity for a real peace, democracy, and human rights. The path to achieve peace, democracy, and human rights is long and bumpy. Those nations who struggled for these values have achieved peace and democracy.