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Afghan peace process back to Doha

Marathon talks between US Special Envoy Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban, in Doha, are concentrating on two questions: continuation of American military bases in Afghanistan, and Taliban guarantees of not letting Afghanistan’s territory be used as launching pad against any third country. Taliban are also ready to undertake that they would not support Al-Qaida and Daesh. Mullah Berader is now leading Taliban’s team. Both sides have acknowledged progress on vital points. For the first time Afghan peace process may be moving in the right direction. During the fifth trip of US Special Envoy Ambassador Zalmay to Pakistan, both sided reiterated their shared intent of an Afghan led and Afghan owned political settlement of Afghan conflict. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the dispute highlights a split that has emerged among countries with an interest in the region, with Pakistan and the US pushing Taliban to open talks with Kabul and other countries, including Iran, supporting the Taliban’s stance; “Iran and Qatar are supporting Taliban’s way but Pakistan is saying what the Afghan government and the US wanted”.Pakistan is not averse to the US’ demands but wants a ‘regional consensus’ on it since permanent presence of the US military in Afghanistan would certainly raise eyebrows in Russia, Iran and even China. These countries fear that the US may use the Afghan soil to advance its own strategic designs in the region. For this reason, Pakistan is striving to evolve a regional consensus on the possible Afghan peace deal. Guarantees and assurances aimed at promoting peace and security of both Afghanistan and other countries are understandable. However, demand for permanent military presence is indicative of the desire not only to keep Afghans subjugated but also to brow-beat other regional countries.

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Afghan peace process in disarray

President Trump is tasting the real power these days. Taliban have the military prowess to attack the places of their liking at the timing of their choosing. In the diplomacy domain, Taliban dictate the venue and agenda. And when they meet Americans, they field Guantanamo hardened Taliban negotiators to stare in the eyes of top American diplomats. Of late, peace talks between Taliban and US officials were cancelled over agenda disagreement. Senior Taliban members based in Afghanistan said “both sides have agreed to not meet.” Three meetings have already taken place between Taliban leaders and US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE took part in the last round of talks in December. Reports last month about US President Trump’s plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan has triggered uncertainty. However, Afghan peace process is in disarray.Interestingly, as an afterthought, the US has taken a step back from the earlier hype of pulling out 7,000 troops from Afghanistan. An Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) representative has declared that if Taliban insist on not meeting Afghan government delegation, then, HPC won’t participate in Saudi Arabia session of talks. With these firmly grounded irritants and posturing, Afghan peace my not just be around the corner.

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Afghan peace process oscillations

The Trump administration is aiming to strike a deal with the Taliban before the Afghan presidential elections, for which new schedule shall be announced in due course. The Taliban, who control over 60 per cent of the Afghan territory, want the US forces to leave Afghanistan. Representatives of the Taliban, the US and several Asian countries gathered in the UAE on December 17-18. The talks were supposed to last three days, as per earlier official announcements, but neither side explained what prompted them to abruptly end the process. Afghan government officials also travelled to the UAE, but were not invited into the meeting. They met with other delegations and said that efforts to join the discussions continued. Afghan peace process in a a state of perpetual oscillations. Taliban, say the presence of international forces in Afghanistan is the main obstacle to peace. Even as the peace process gathers momentum, fighting has continued with heavy casualties on both sides. President Ashraf Ghani’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, stated that Afghan government had not taken part directly in the talks, however a team from Kabul met US and Saudi officials in the UAE. Pakistan Foreign office welcomed a new round of talks between the Afghan Taliban and other international stakeholders: “Along with international community and other stakeholders, Pakistan is committed to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” said FO Spokesperson on Twitter: “Talks are being held in UAE. We hope this will end bloodshed in Afghanistan and bring peace to the region.” Notwithstanding the optimism, Afghan peace may stay elusive unless occupation forces offer concrete concessions including firm timeframe for the departure of last foreign soldier and substantial restructuring of Afghan constitution.

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Afghan peace process: Evolving Scenarios

The Trump administration is aiming to strike a deal with the Taliban before the Afghan presidential elections, for which new schedule shall be announced in due course. The Taliban, who control over 60 per cent of the Afghan territory, want the US forces to leave Afghanistan. Representatives of the Taliban, the US and several Asian countries gathered in the UAE on December 17-18. The talks were supposed to last three days, as per earlier official announcements, but neither side explained what prompted them to abruptly end the process. Afghan government officials also travelled to the UAE, but were not invited into the meeting. They met with other delegations and said that efforts to join the discussions continued. Prime Minister Imran Khan, publicly took credit for facilitating the “peace talks,” and reiterated that his country “will do everything within its power” to further the Afghan peace process. The US spokesperson said a recent letter from President Donald Trump to Prime Minister Imran Khan "emphasized that Pakistan’s assistance with the Afghan peace process is fundamental to building an enduring US Pakistan partnership.” He added: “We welcome any actions the Pakistani government takes to advance security, stability and cooperation in South Asia, including the fostering of negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government and other Afghans”. Apparently it may appear that Afghan peace process is on fast track.

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Afghan peace process on fast track!

America is abdicating its obligation of bringing a responsible end to “wrong wars”, it has decided to pull out its troops from Syria and Afghanistan. A lot has happened with regard to evolving Afghan peace process during 2018, most of the activity is not yet in public domain. Hopefully, Pakistan government would stand on its feet firmly to safeguard its core national interests; and would not buckle under American pressure to offer strategic concessions in exchange for paltry gains like previous governments which had to deal with earlier portions of Afghan crisis. Americans are in an indecent hurry, this should not tailspin Pakistan into a state of panic. With recent American trend of walking away from earlier international treaties, they can no longer be trusted with new ones. Pakistan should insist for appropriate international guarantees, both within and outside UNSC framework. Alongside, all six immediate neighbours of Afghanistan should be made part of the evolving peace agreement. There should be a multilateral mechanism to oversee the implementation of agreement leading to transfer of control of Afghanistan’s destiny to Afghan people through a UN supervised presidential and parliamentary elections in which Taliban also participate as a political entity. Trump administration is aiming to strike a deal with the Taliban by April next year or before the Afghan presidential elections. The Taliban, who control over 60 per cent of the Afghan territory, want the US forces to leave Afghanistan. Representatives of the Taliban, the US and several Asian countries gathered in the UAE on December 17-18. The talks were supposed to last three days, as per earlier official announcements, but neither side explained what prompted them to abruptly end the process. Afghan government officials also travelled to the UAE, but were not invited into the meeting. They met with other delegations and said that efforts to join the discussions continued.

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Trump’s new found love for Pakistan

Now the US president has adopted a formal, diplomatic way of approaching its frontline partner in the terror war, instead of making use of the crude oratory that he is best at. Trump’s letter indicates that now there is a realization within the US administration that Pakistan’s co-operation is vital to ensuring peace in Afghanistan. Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari demolished Khalilzad for his hawkish approach towards Islamabad by advising him to bring a “less arrogant and hostile mind set” during his visit to Islamabad. She credited Imran Khan for promptly responding to Trump’s Twitter tirade. She claimed that premier’s reply had ‘compelled Trump to do a reality check’. “So much for those in Pakistan who were quivering after Imran Khan’s tweets,” she added.Pakistan has suffered more than 75,000 casualties in the war on terrorism as it had agreed to cooperate with the US in that effort, even though “no Pakistani was involved” in the 9/11 attacks. Instead of “making Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures,” the United States should undertake a “serious assessment” of why, after a war involving hundreds of thousands of NATO and Afghan troops and more than $1 trillion in costs, the Taliban today are stronger than ever before. Since Pakistan has always advocated a political settlement to end war in Afghanistan, the US decision is welcomed,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Pakistan reiterates its commitment to play a facilitation role in good faith. Peace and stability in Afghanistan remains a shared responsibility,” statement added. If current phase of diplomacy between the US and Pakistan is steered well, it could help ease tension between Washington and Islamabad; and bring peace to Afghanistan.

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Geneva Conference on Afghanistan: A cart and horse dilemma

The Geneva Conference on Afghanistan, was co-hosted by the Government of Afghanistan and the UN “to renew their partnership and cooperation for Afghanistan’s peace, prosperity and self-reliance”. Meet was attended by delegations from 61 countries and 35 international organizations, and representatives of civil society, the private sector and the media. The Geneva Conference was a midway review between two pledging conferences: the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan (2016) and the next pledging conference expected to be held in 2020. While Afghan leadership was looking for peace in Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan, back home there were two back to back raids raids on occupation forces, two on the US and one on the UK assets. Four Americans soldiers were killed, taking the number to 12 during this year; more than 2,200 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 9/11. Since the start of 2015, when Afghan forces assumed lead in combative operations, 58 Americans have been killed, as compared to 30,000 Afghan police and soldiers. At least twelve people were killed after a massive blast outside a British security company’s compound in Kabul on November 28; the attack claimed by Taliban was the latest violence to target the Afghan capital. Blast was a car bomb targeting a compound which houses G4S, a private British security company, in east Kabul. Health ministry spokesman Wahid Majroh told AFP “10 dead, 19 wounded have been evacuated from site,” he did not mention victims’ nationalities. Attack came just hours after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced the formation of a team for prospective peace talks with the militant group, as the United Nations (UN) renewed calls for direct negotiations between Kabul and the insurgents. And on November 20, at least 55 people were killed when a bomber blew himself up in the middle of a banquet hall in one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan this year. The violence came as the Taliban intensify pressure on Afghan security forces, even as the international community ramps up efforts towards talks. If Khalilzad's effort also fizzles out, then Presidential elections may be put off. Notwithstanding the optimism, Afghan peace may stay elusive unless occupation forces offer concrete concessions including firm timeframe for the departure of last foreign soldier and substantial restructuring of Afghan constitution.

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Moscow Format: New entry to knotty peace processes

Afghanistan rivals failed to reach a breakthrough on holding direct peace negotiations during international talks in Moscow, the latest international effort to end the conflict. Russia had invited representatives from the United States as well as India, Iran, China and Central Asian Republics; all hailed the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan as an opportunity to “open a new page” in …

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Crossfire of Afghan peace processes

Afghanistan rivals failed to reach a breakthrough on holding direct peace negotiations during international talks in Moscow, the latest international effort to end the conflict. Russia had invited representatives from the United States as well as India, Iran, China and Central Asian Republics; all hailed the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan as an opportunity to “open a new page” in Afghanistan’s history and seek an end to the war 17 years after the US-led invasion. This was the first meeting of the Moscow Format with participation of Afghan High Peace Council representatives and Afghan Taliban delegation from its Qatar political office. Pakistan views the Moscow Format meeting as a step towards lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is caught in cross-fire of multiple peace initiatives through more than a dozen processes. Most of the ongoing Afghan peace processes are nothing more than a trash. Afghan peace is the biggest challenge of this century, haunting the comity of nations. It needs a quality peace process under the UN auspices, underwritten by P-5 members of UNSC; and led by UNSG’s special envoy of the stature of late Kofi Annan.

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UNSG Report on Afghanistan

United Nations' Secretary General Mr António Guterres has submitted quarterly report on Afghanistan to the Security Council. According to the report, Afghanistan’s mainstream political parties and political movements have intensified their efforts ahead of October parliamentary elections with politicians insisting on reforms in the election system. Between 15 May and 15 August, UNAMA recorded a total of 5,800 security incidents. On the peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the UN chief’s reported noted that the momentum in support of a peace process with the Taliban continued, aided by the increasingly active engagement of civil society and religious leaders calling for peace between government and the Taliban. In 2018, 178,002 people were newly displaced by conflict and the demand for trauma care for victims of war increased to 24,687 cases in 2018, an increase of 14 per cent compared with 2017. The report says that a total of 210,724 Afghan citizens, including spontaneous returnees, deportees and refugees, returned to Afghanistan during the reporting period. Former President Sibghat ullah Mujaddadi and a number of parliamentarians have called for the BSA to be assessed. They opined that the agreement has not been successful in the fight against insurgency. In the meanwhile, Taliban and the US are preparing for second round of their direct talks in Doha.

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