Resurrection of Doha peace spirit in Moscow | By Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

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Resurrection of Doha peace spirit in Moscow


GOING through the vicissitudes of the Afghan peace process, there must be a clear understanding for the American policymakers in Washington to realise that it is the multilateralism that could pave the way for a sustainable peace in Afghanistan, albeit the half-hearted/divided response of the Biden Administration regarding the 01 May schedule — the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan — is not a good omen.

The regional powers/stakeholders, Russia, China and Pakistan in the summit held in Moscow (March 16) categorically agreed to revive the spirit of the Doha Peace Accord with the Afghan Taliban.

The US, Russian, Chinese and Pakistani officials urged representatives from the Afghan government and Taliban to commit to an immediate ceasefire in a joint statement.

“We call on all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to reduce the level of violence in the country and the Taliban Movement not to declare a spring-summer offensive campaign,” the statement said.

The parties added that the Afghans should reach a deal “as soon as possible” that would “bring an end to over four decades of war in Afghanistan.”

The one-day gathering in Russia on March 16 was part of an intense diplomatic push to jumpstart a stalled peace process amid a looming deadline for withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.

Some fear Afghanistan will descend into chaos if international forces depart without a negotiated political settlement in place.

Negotiations between a sanctioned Afghan government team and the Taliban started in Doha in September 2020 but have so far not yielded results.

Taliban representatives and a delegation of Afghan leaders that includes government officials have been holding talks in Qatar’s capital, Doha, since September last year.

As per the revival of the Doha Peace Accord, the US should commit to continued support for the peace talks and resolve short-term challenges – including expectations of a military withdrawal by May 2021.

The Taliban should commit to a significant reduction of violence, and Afghan political leaders should continue working toward a unified approach to peace. Biden has consistently advocated for the lightest possible military footprint in Afghanistan, focused purely on counter-terrorism and he has suggested, more than once in the last decade, that concern for the fate of the Afghan government or people should not determine US policy in the region.

Still, even the desire to maintain a small counter-terrorism footprint (Biden has suggested that the force be several thousand strong) will raise difficult issues.

There can be no denying that the current crisis in Afghanistan does not have a military solution.

The experience of the past 20 years have demonstrated that the way forward has to be via a political solution but the Taliban should know that they cannot return to power and expect to rule like they did prior to 2001.

The Afghan people have changed over the last 20 years, and they do not want to return to the dark days.

Any agreement that does not guarantee the current political system of a republic, human rights and women’s rights, and freedom of expression and of the press, will not result in a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.

The United States, Russia, China and Pakistan called on Afghanistan’s warring sides to reach an immediate ceasefire at the conference, held in Russia just six weeks before a deadline agreed last year to withdraw U.S. troops.

The United States sent a senior representative to Moscow for the talks on Afghanistan.

The Trump Administration agreed last year with the Taliban to withdraw its troops by May 1 after nearly two decades, while looking for support among regional powers for its plans for the peace process
Former President Hamid Karzai and the country’s highest-ranking military officer, Marshal Abdul Rasheed Dostum, were also among the delegates who participated in the Moscow summit.

“It [the conference] also debates the ways and means to promote the development of AFG [Afghanistan] as an independent, peaceful and self-sufficient state, free from terrorism and drug-related crimes.

We acknowledge the pivotal role of AFG’s neighbours, and Russia in establishing lasting peace in the country,” said Abdullah in a series of tweets prior to his departure.

On the other hand, following a proposal from the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Turkey also plans to host an Afghan peace conference in Istanbul in April, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuþoðlu said last week.

The Biden Administration has asked Turkey to host a senior-level meeting between Taliban and Afghan officials in coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement, according to Tolo News, an Afghan news outlet.

“Turkey is a significant donor and has troops stationed in Afghanistan, but it also has stable relations with significant power brokers inside and outside the government, such as ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rasheed Dostum or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,” she told Arab News.

“ Turkey maintains stable relations with Iran, Pakistan, China and Russia and could hence facilitate an intra-regional effort.

It also has good relations with Qatar and softened its stance on the Taliban over the past years,” Kirchner said.

Analysts say Biden could threaten to hold up the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. troops if there is no indication, or insufficient evidence, that the Taliban has ended cooperation with Al-Qaeda.

It is believed that Biden could negotiate a brief extension of the deadline or unilaterally decide to remain for a limited time, either of which might simply delay a possible Taliban takeover.

Or Washington could decide to extend its war indefinitely, maintaining a small counterterrorism force along with NATO allies to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS).

“This is a policy nightmare for the Biden Administration,” says Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Centre.

“It will need to pick the least-bad option.” Yet there is the likelihood that any attempt at the part of the Biden Administration not to join the resonance of a multilateral peace could transform the dividends of peace in a chaos of war which will be unproductive and unwelcoming for all the stakeholders of the Afghan peace process.

—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.