THE US envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad expressed disappointment on Friday after the collapse of a planned meeting between the Taliban and a group of Afghan politicians in Qatar that exposed some of the deep divisions. A 250-strong delegation of Afghan politicians and civil society figures was due to meet Taliban officials in Doha at the weekend; but the event was cancelled on Thursday amid arguments over the size and status of the group, which included some government officials attending in a personal capacity. In a statement, Office of President Ashraf Ghani said that Qatari Government failed to meet the legitimate demands of the Afghan people by not accepting an inclusive delegation of 250 men and women and instead imposing a list of its own. The Taliban had mocked the large size of the Afghan peace delegation, saying that conference in Doha was not a wedding party.
“The creators of the Kabul list must realize that this is an orderly and prearranged conference in a far-away (Gulf) country and not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul. Arranging and publishing such lists signifies that the Kabul Administration fears these conferences and progress towards peace, which is why it is trying to play a spoiler’s role with such actions”, said the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. Meanwhile many politicians have hinted that they would boycott Loya Jirga and presidential election, which threaten to stymie the polls as they did 2014 presidential and 2018 parliamentary elections when fraud, dereliction and many other issues had marred those polls. Since Taliban control almost half of Afghanistan, they will never be convinced to enter the peace process under the present government. Thus, President Ashraf Ghani stands isolated, as neither Pashtuns nor his allies trust him anymore.
As the current National Unity Government (NUG) mandate is expiring in May, there is a perception that President Ashraf Ghani wants to extend its term by holding such jirgas. Earlier, CEO Abdullah Abdullah’s presidential election team announced it was not participating in the Loya Jirga. Despite tremendous efforts, peace in Afghanistan still is a distant dream, as the government is ready to wage a war after the Taliban group announced their “spring offensive”. The situation has become more complex ahead of peace talks that were to be held on 20th April between Afghan delegation and Taliban negotiation members. However talks have been postponed by Doha organizers and also refusal of the Taliban to attend the meeting on the pretext of unusually large number of representatives. Hopes of Afghan masses for an end to the conflict have been dashed to the ground because of deadlock in the reconciliation process.
The Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) is scheduled to be held on April 29th in Kabul, in which 2500 representatives of the people from across the country would attend, costing the exchequer US $ 5 million. However, six presidential candidates and a number of political parties consider the upcoming Consultative Loya Jirga for peace ‘an election campaign’ and have refused to participate in it. The Political Parties and National Institutes Coalition and presidential hopefuls like Hanif Atmar, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Rahmatullah Nabil, Anwarul Haq Ulumi, Ahmad Wali Massoud and Farmarz Tamanna have called the planned Loya Jirga a political gimmick and election campaign, and vowed not to be part of the event. A dozen other presidential candidates had also earlier in a statement criticized the composition of the commission tasked with making preparation for holding the Loya Jirga and the High Council of Reconciliation.
Meanwhile, eleven presidential candidates have started consultations on the establishment of interim government, as the incumbent government’s tenure ends on May 22, and that it does not have legitimacy beyond that date to hold presidential election on September 28. The Taliban also want amendment to the Constitution and formation of interim government which can ensure the participants of free and fair elections. But the government believes that it will lose its current position by following this mechanism, so it doesn’t agree with this mechanism. Apart from other parties, Hanif Atmar’s team expressed concern about the way the Loya Jirga was being organized, its structure and members. Lately, head of the Jihad wa Muqawmat party, General Din Mohammad Jurat, a senior member of Mohammad Hanif Atmar’s team, termed the upcoming Consultative Loya Jirga as a campaign for the next presidential election.
Dr Ashraf Ghani should realize that Afghanistan has been in the throes of a multidimensional civil war for the last four decades, and with the rift between the partners of Unity Government and intensified Taliban attacks, the country is adrift to more uncertainties, chaos and anarchy unless the Taliban are given a fair share in the government. Afghan National Unity Government failed on many counts; instead of putting its own house in order, it continued to blame Pakistan for its failures. There is record increase in violence in Afghanistan and the Taliban have expanded their influence by gaining control in the territory held by them. The Taliban leaders are emboldened because of the rift in the Unity Government and reputation of the government functionaries who are accused of corruption and nepotism. The US should stop the litany of Afghan-led peace process, and ask the incumbent government to stop playing the spoiler’s role.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.