CHIEF Executive Abdullah Abdullah on Thursday presided over the meeting of working groups of the newly established Reconciliation Leadership Council at the Sapidar Palace where they discussed fundamental issues. “Today’s discussion was carried out around the appointment of the peace negotiating team with the Taliban and the delegation which will attend Qatar meeting as well as the inclusion of some other influential personalities in the structure of the Council,” said Faraidoon Khozoon, deputy spokesman to Abdullah. But, the meeting between Afghan politicians and the Taliban which was initially scheduled for April 14 was postponed to April 19 as per the decision of the newly-established Reconciliation Leadership Council. Next week’s Qatar meeting will bring Afghan politicians together providing the first platform for peace in the country where they will present their views on ongoing peace process and the political settlement in country.
While Taliban insists that no one will attend the Qatar meeting as a representative of the Afghan government, but officials from the National Unity Government said that a delegation would represent the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan at the meeting which was earlier scheduled for April 14. Whatever the outcome of the meetings, Dr Ashraf Ghani faces an uphill battle to win a second term, as his presidency has been undermined by poverty, corruption and insecurity. Despite Ghani’s attempt to build a reputation as a reformist technocrat, economic visionary, democratic modernizer and champion of peace, his image today is more that of an isolated leader. Initially, Abdullah Abdullah had hinted that he would not participate in the elections, as had tasted manipulations and fraud in the elections. The Taliban also wish to mend fences with the elements from the former Northern Alliance.
In January 2019, speaking to TRT World (Turkish international news channel) on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Jordan, CE Abdullah Abdullah had said: “Hopefully, in the coming days there will be a leadership council for reconciliation established.” He had told TRT World that an initiative was underway which would lead to the establishment of a Council on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. There’s hope that the newly-formed Council will bring about an eventual power-sharing agreement with the Taliban. He said that “the eventual purpose of the Leadership Council for Reconciliation is aimed at some sort of power sharing agreement with the Taliban.” It is not difficult to conclude from his statement that Abdullah Abdullah is trying to woo the Taliban leaders to seek their support. However there is a many a slip twixt the cup and the lips.
It is the third time that Abdullah Abdullah has entered the race to become President and will once again challenge Dr Ashraf Ghani and others. Abdullah had initially refused to concede in the 2014 elections, alleging widespread electoral fraud and a stolen election. He eventually agreed to join the so-called National Unity Government in the newly created post of Chief executive, in a deal worked out by the then US Secretary of State John Kerry. However, the Constitution was not amended to define the powers of the Chief Executive. Dr Ashraf Ghani was averse to form unity government, but he agreed to accept Abdullah Abdullah as Chief Executive only after he was warned by Obama Administration that in case recount and audit was conducted he might lose presidency in the final count. Over the past few months, the Trump Administration has stepped up efforts to resolve Afghanistan’s 17-year war, America’s longest conflict.
In this connection, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held several rounds of peace talks only with the Taliban, which did not include the Afghan Government, as the Taliban considers it a US puppet. Anyhow, there are 18 presidential candidates including Abdullah Abdullah and Hanif Atmar, who was among a group of opposition leaders and former officials meeting with Taliban representatives in Moscow last week. Also included in those “intra-Afghan” talks are Atmar’s running mates, Qanuni and Mohaqiq; former President Hamid Karzai; and Atta Mohammad Noor, the former Governor of Balkh province who is against Ghani. Ali Yawar Adili, a researcher with the Afghanistan Analysts Network – an independent think tank – says there is speculation that developments in the peace talks would not result in holding elections, but rather the establishment of a caretaker government. Adili added: “The peace talks and calls for reform of the electoral bodies of the country increase uncertainty.”
High-level talks between Pakistan and the United States were also held at the Foreign Office in Islamabad to discuss progress on Afghan reconciliation process. The US Special Representative for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad called on Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and both of them exchanged views on the Afghan peace process, current regional situation and the matters of mutual interests. The Foreign Minister appreciated progress on intra-Afghan talks and said Pakistan would continue to play its role in political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Zalmay Khalilzad also apprised the Foreign Minister about the progress on Doha talks and details of his recent engagements regarding Afghan peace process. He had come to Pakistan after meeting Afghan leaders in Kabul, and after the meeting he tweeted: “We agree that Afghan dialogue should be comprehensive and all-inclusive with representatives from Afghan government, women, young people and civil society”.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.