Afghan peace process
The Afghan peace process refers to both the proposals and negotiations in a bid to end the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Although sporadic efforts have taken place since the war began in 2001, negotiations and the peace movement intensified in 2018 amid talks between the Taliban, which is the main insurgent group fighting against the Afghan government and American troops; and the United States, of which 20,000 soldiers maintain a presence within the country to support the Afghan government. Most of the talks have taken place in Doha, the capital of Qatar. It is expected that a mutual agreement between the Taliban and the United States would be followed by a phased American withdrawal and the start of intra-Afghan peace talks. Besides the United States, Afghanistan's neighbors Pakistan, China and India, as well as Russia, play a part in facilitating the peace process.
The Taliban (Pashto: طالبان, romanized: ṭālibān, lit. 'students'), which refers to itself as Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, are a Sunni Islamic organization that operates in Afghanistan, a country in Central/South Asia. The Taliban emerged in 1994 taking advantage of the power vacuum that was left following the aftermath of the Afghan Civil War. The group was mainly composed of religious students in Pakistani madrassas (who had fought in the Soviet–Afghan War) under the leadership of Mohammed Omar.
It is reported Al-Qaeda, an international terrorist network, were granted sanctuary on the condition that it does not antagonize the United States, but Osama bin Laden reneged on the agreement in 1998 when he orchestrated bombings of US embassies in East Africa. The episode was indicative of tensions that emerged between the two groups, analysts say. The Taliban was fundamentally parochial while Al-Qaeda had its sights set on global jihad.
The US after the September 11 attacks made a request to the Taliban leadership under the Presidency of George W. Bush to hand over Osama bin Laden who was the prime suspect of the bombing. The Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US government demanding enough evidence of his participation in the attacks. The US with its NATO allies, launched the invasion code-named Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001. The U.S. and its allies rapidly drove the Taliban from power by 17 December 2001, and built military bases near major cities across the country. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was later created by the United Nations Security Council to train Afghan National Security Forces to oversee military operations in the country so as to prevent any resurgence of the Taliban group. The Taliban has launched numerous attacks on the Afghan forces, government facilities and any organization that they believe are in alliance with the US.
The US has been on the ground and directly involved in the 17-year old war that analysts have described as stalemate. Although al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan are now considered to be "diminished", the war with the Taliban insurgents rages on. Ending the 17-year conflict has eluded former US presidents and Donald Trump has said that he considers the war too costly. Similarities with the process to end the Vietnam War - America's longest war prior to 2010 - have been noted, which resulted in the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.
Negotiations had long been advocated by the former Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, as well as the British and Pakistani governments, but was resisted by the American government. Karzai offered peace talks with the Taliban in September 2007, but this was swiftly rejected by the insurgent group citing the presence of foreign troops. By 2009 there was broad agreement in Afghanistan that the war should end, but how it should happen was a major issue for the candidates of the 2009 Afghan presidential election that re-elected Karzai. In a televised speech after being elected, Karzai called on "our Taliban brothers to come home and embrace their land" and laid plans to launch a loya jirga. Efforts were undermined by the Obama administration's increase of American troops in the country. Karzai reinstated at a London conference in January 2010 that he wants to reach out to the Taliban to lay down arms. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautiously supported the proposal. At the United States Institute of Peace in May 2010, Karzai said that a "peace process" will be with the Taliban and other militants "who are not part of al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks or ideologically against us". He also called the Taliban "They're countryside boys who don't hate the United States, perhaps a lot of them would like to visit the United States given the opportunity".
The Taliban's co-founder and then-second-in-command, Abdul Ghani Baradar, was one of the leading Taliban members who favored talks with the US and Afghan governments. However, in February 2010, Baradar was captured in a joint US-Pakistani raid in the city of Karachi in Pakistan. Karzai's administration reportedly held talks with Baradar just before his arrest which infuriated the Afghan President and invoked suspicions that he was seized because the Pakistani intelligence was opposed to Afghan peace talks. The Afghan Peace Jirga 2010 took place in June 2010, however the Taliban did not attend the conference.
A change of mindset and strategy occurred within the Obama administration in 2010 to allow possible political negotiations to solve the war. The Taliban themselves had refused to speak to the Afghan government, portraying them as an American "puppet". Sporadic efforts for peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban happened afterwards, and it was reported in October 2010 that Taliban leadership commanders (the "Quetta Shura") left their haven in Pakistan and safely escorted to Kabul by NATO aircraft for talks, with assurance that NATO staff will not apprehend them. On November 23, 2010, it was reported that supposed talks with Akhtar Mansour, a senior Taliban commander, was actually an imposter.
Karzai confirmed in June 2011 that secret talks were taking place between the U.S. and the Taliban, but it was reported that these collapsed by August 2011, Another effort for talks was canceled in March 2012, followed by another and more notable effort that was abruptly canceled in June 2013 following a dispute between the Afghan government and the Taliban regarding the latter's opening of a political office in Qatar. President Karzai accused the Taliban of portraying themselves as a government in exile. In January 2016, Pakistan hosted a round of four-way talks with Afghan, Chinese and American officials, but the Taliban did not attend. It was reported in October 2016 that the Taliban held informal talks with the Afghan government. A conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, between 20 countries, backed the Afghan government's peace offer to the Taliban.
On February 27, 2018, following a spike in violence, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced at an international conference in Kabul a bold peace process proposal to last with unconditional peace talks with the Taliban. Ghani also offered the Taliban full recognition as a legal political party and the release of Taliban prisoners. It was the most significant peace overture offered by the Afghan government since the war started, and was preceded by months of national consensus building in Afghanistan, finding that Afghans overwhelmingly supported a peaceful and political end to the war. Two days prior, the militant group called for talks with the US, saying "It must now be established by America and her allies that the Afghan issue cannot be solved militarily. America must henceforth focus on a peaceful strategy for Afghanistan instead of war." In a rare move, the Taliban remained silent to Ghani's offer.
On June 7, 2018, in a notable development, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban announced an unprecedented mutual ceasefire during the Eid celebrations. This came amid a growing peace movement in the country, originating with a group of people from Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province who walked a peace march of hundreds of miles to Kabul, where they met President Ghani and held sit-in protests outside the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan building and some embassies. The catalyst of the movement was a car bomb on March 23 in Lashkar Gah that killed 14 people during a celebration of Nowruz. The bomb led to the locals to protest a demand to an end of violence before starting the march, further joined by more people including women and passing through Taliban territory to get to Kabul. The Afghan media dubbed them the Helmand Peace Convoy and it inspired further movements in other parts of Afghanistan. During the Eid ceasefire, Taliban members flocked into Kabul where they met and communicated with locals and state security forces. Although civilians called for the ceasefire to be made permanent, the Taliban rejected an extension and resumed fighting after the ceasefire ended on June 18, while the Afghan government's ceasefire ended a week later.
In July 2018, American officials secretely met Taliban members at their political office in Qatar, which was a sign of intensifying efforts to resolve the war in Afghanistan by the Donald Trump administration. This occurred after Trump put pressure on Pakistan, accusing the Pakistani state of harboring the Taliban and their supposed lack of actions against terrorists, first in August 2017 then again in January 2018.
On September 5, 2018, Zalmay Khalilzad joined the U.S. State Department as President Trump's special adviser on Afghanistan. The purpose was to facilitate an intra-Afghan political peace process to end the war. On October 12, 2018, talks between the U.S. envoy led by Khalilzad and the Taliban took place in Qatar. Russia hosted a separate peace talk in November 2018 between the Taliban and officials from Afghanistan's High Peace Council.
The Afghan Taliban announced in December 2018 that they will once again meet with American negotiators in Qatar to find a peaceful solution to the 15-year armed insurgency in Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani and his administration were not invited to the talks. The Taliban had previously stated they would not negotiate with the government of Afghanistan, who they considered a puppet government.
In February 2019, intra-Afghan talks between the Taliban and other Afghans, which included former President Hamid Karzai, were held at a hotel in Moscow. The talks did not include the Afghan government led by Ghani.
On February 25, 2019, peace talks began between the Taliban and the United States in Qatar, with Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar notably present. US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reported that this round of negotiations was "more productive than they have been in the past" and that a draft version of a peace agreement had been agreed upon. The deal involved the withdrawal of US and international troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban not allowing other jihadist groups to operate within the country. The Taliban also reported that progress was being made in the negotiations.
At the same time, the Afghan government hosted a four-day loya jirga for peace efforts from April 29 to May 3, 2019. The Taliban was also invited but did not attend. Later in May, a Taliban delegation met a group of senior Afghan politicians in Moscow, the third time such event happened in the Russian capital.
On 12 August 2019, the US and the Taliban completed an eighth round of talks in Qatar. The Washington Post reported that the US was close to reaching a peace deal with the Taliban and was preparing to withdraw 5,000 troops from Afghanistan.
One of the core issues of a potential peace agreement is the freedom of speech, education and women's rights that is practised in Afghanistan under its constitution. Under the Taliban's rule, such rights were opposed. Khalilzad, as well as President Ghani, CEO Abdullah Abdullah and other senior Afghan officials, have called protecting these rights as being highly important and that they should not be sacrificed in a peace agreement. The First Lady, Rula Ghani, has been a significant voice in protecting women's rights.
Despite continuous talks, the Taliban have continued to fight on the battlefield and launch terror attacks in the capital city. They have also threatened the 2019 Afghan presidential election, which is scheduled for September 28.
The US ambassador to Afghanistan warned that a peace agreement could risk the Taliban back into power in a similar event as after the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, when the South Vietnamese government that was supported by the US were defeated in the Fall of Saigon.
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