Exclusive interview with Khalid Noor on Doha peace conference

From Left, Khalid Noor and Lotfullah Najafzada at Doha peace conference. July 8, 2019.

Amid a series of peace talks over the last months, Taliban and Afghan representatives gathered in Doha and agreed on a roadmap to end the 18 years of war. Since last year, the U.S. appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as the lead Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation to broker a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government, in hopes for a long term ceasefire. 

In Doha, Qatar, a meeting co-hosted by German and Qatari officials brought together diverse individuals interested in achieving lasting Afghan peace. Sixteen Taliban and sixty Afghan representatives (composed of delegates from political parties, government officials and civil society organizations) engaged in discussions that led to a potentially positive arrangement. Doha conference, instilled newfound hope as the Taliban agreed to reduce its reliance on violent attacks by avoiding various public spaces. Rise to Peace’s Ahmad Mohibi interviews Khalid Noor, one of the participants at Doha conference, to give a closer look at the future of the Afghan peace process. 

What is your takeaway from the Doha Peace Conference?

Khalid Noor: I think the Doha meeting was a great opportunity for the two sides [Taliban and the Afghan representatives] to sit down and share their issues, and to explain their concerns with each other. The talks provided the opportunity for both sides to discuss some of the most sensitive and critical topics that were overlooked at previous peace talks. For instance, we talked about regime creation. I personally changed the nature of the meeting from ceremonial to more serious discussions with my thoughts, that we want the regime to be the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — this is our goal and our red line. The Taliban wants an Islamic Emirate and that’s their red line. 

What were some of the questions that were brought forth to the Taliban at the Conference?

Khalid Noor: We would like to know how likely it is that the Taliban is willing to participate and accept our Islamic Republic if we bring substantial changes. My next point was that elections are valuable to us and we are not willing to lose them at any cost. Our fellow citizens are concerned about this, but they want to know: will you [Taliban] participate in an Afghan lead election that is controlled and financed by Afghans after reaching an agreement on a coalition government?

The moderator interrupted me shortly after my first two questions and requested if it’s possible to avoid technical and serious questions in order to not disrupt the meeting. I respectfully accepted but continued with my last question: Is it possible to elaborate and emphasize freedom of speech? For instance, you [Taliban] have said though press releases and other forms of public messaging, that the Taliban would respect freedom of speech. Although, in your other statements the Taliban threatens media over the same matter. It’s imperative for us to understand, ‘what’s happening on your side and what is your vision of certain freedoms in Afghanistan?’

What was one of the main points that both parties were mostly concerned about?

Khalid Noor: After listening to each other’s questions and concerns, the two sides started to raise their issues about violent attacks. For instance, we shared our sorrows and criticized the current Taliban tactic of sending suicide bombers to kill innocent people in congested parts of the cities. It is not Islamic or logical. The Taliban also criticized the Afghan government by saying that the government ‘only talks about the civilian casualties caused by us [Taliban] and not the night operations conducted by the government, that resulted in the martyrdom of our people and civilians. No news agency reports that. So, when you [Afghan government] raise such concerns, it’s also necessary to discuss our casualties as well.’ One of the Taliban members sternly asked, “Do you think our civilian casualties are not human beings?”

Were there any other matters discussed following the Taliban’s concern of mass casualties?

Khalid Noor: The Taliban raised another point about human rights after we repeatedly defended human rights, women’s rights, and freedom of speech. They told us, “since you are speaking about human rights, is human rights only what you hear about on television and what you believe is right, or do you think about what we go through? They [Afghan National Security Forces and Coalition Forces] enter our homes at night, disrespect our women, our children, and mothers.  For example, one of our commanders was arrested by the Afghanistan National Intelligence Agency and the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

When he was taken into custody at NDS, the investigators told him “Now call your God to help you.” The Taliban expanded on this example and challenged us on “what part of this misbehavior of our personnel, where torture is following the principles of human rights?” They continued and said, “if you look at the prison systems, they are not fair to us [Taliban]. Aren’t your human rights’ values applicable to this case or it’s only the media that shows our negative actions?” Taliban said “we are not denying our mistakes. We have done mistakes but to be fair, it’s good that both sides accept the mistakes.”

Who were some of the other key representatives at this Conference?

Khalid Noor: The two sides listened carefully to each other’s issues and concerns. Our Muslim scholars, who were part of the Kabul delegates, also condemned Taliban actions and illustrated that our interpretation of Islam is better than the Taliban interpretation. The Muslim scholars added that it’s imperative that we [Afghan and Taliban] scholars sit and discuss these issues and come to a conclusion whose interpretation of Islam is right or wrong.

Would you consider this meeting successful?

Khalid Noor: The main point of this meeting was that an opportunity emerged so that both sides could clearly raise their thoughts patiently. This was unlike many other peace talks. In previous conferences, the intra-Afghan dialogues were smaller, about 5-6 people from the Taliban and Afghan side. Unlike before, this time we were part of a bigger team where we discussed various topics. Most importantly, the Taliban delegates participated in the conversation and answered questions. This was a great achievement.

What can be done to increase the likelihood of success in future peace talks?

Khalid Noor: On day two, we were more open to collaborative discussions compared to the first day where mostly everyone was serious and had this hatred towards each other. Representatives from both sides felt comfortable to share something and they listened to each other. I really think that this was a good meeting as the two sides exchanged ideas. If we had one or two more days, I really believe that our discussion could have been more technical and friendlier. It’s imperative to keep such talks in the future. In addition to actual Afghan-Taliban peace negotiations, we need to have separate dialogues, because negotiations can be tough sometimes and in that circumstance, it’s better to refer the issue to the dialogue team, so they can discuss it without a judgment call or simply answer out of ignorance.

Do you believe that the Taliban will keep their promise in efforts to reduce violence? 

Khalid Noor: It’s too early to know if the Taliban will keep their promises or not. But I have to express that the two sides [Taliban and Afghan government] should be involved and support each other. It’s important that both the Afghan National Security Forces and the Taliban fighters implement the promise reached by both sides at the meeting. We are both held accountable. A judgment call can be made if we see a civilian casualty in any of their attacks. We would ask them: You promised us that you would not attack civilians, so what happened that now you attacked schools, hospitals, and targeted civilians? Thus, their promise is a way to keep them responsible for their actions.

This is in case they break the agreement, and they most likely will. But, it’s difficult for us to understand how strongly they are going to keep their promise.

What are some of the drivers for the Taliban to end their fight and join the Afghan government?

Khalid Noor: Some of the main reasons that the Taliban are willing to come to a negotiated settlement and end the war which the Afghan and American governments, along with the international community, believe that no party or side will create peace through war or the use of force. Neither the Taliban can defeat us, nor we can defeat them. In the past 18 years, we have been fighting continuously on the frontlines. Although the Taliban had massive casualties, they are still standing strong against the Afghan government. I do believe that each side has come to the understanding that negotiations are the best option, as war is not the solution to problems.

At the same time, we can tell they [Taliban] are tired of fighting and do not want to continue this war. Their foot soldiers are getting older and the leadership may face trust issues with the current generation of soldiers, as they may not be as loyal. I do not know for sure, but this is my personal understating.

Taliban said, “We also would like to see our children go to school. But because of you [Afghan government], we seek refuge in the mountains, so we cannot send our children to gain proper education and have the basic needs of living.”

What can the Afghan leaders offer to meet those drivers?

Khalid Noor: I strongly believe that the two sides [the Afghan government and the Taliban] should compromise on certain issues and accept each other’s point of view. Without compromise and understanding, there is no other way to solve the problem. The two sides should meet in the future to discuss their concerns. They may need to revise some of their strong policies or views to reach the common goal of a deal to build a regime in Afghanistan.

How does the U.S. contribute as the main broker in intra-Afghan dialogues?

Khalid Noor: The U.S. role in negotiations is critical. Bringing the two sides to a negotiation table is great assistance. Second, if the U.S. direct talks with the Taliban are successful, then this will definitely support the Afghan peace process. Additionally, the U.S. role in pressuring political parties and the Afghan government, so they can come to a united stand in efforts to negotiate with the Taliban, is very critical. I do believe that the U.S. has a key role in encouraging politicians, elites and the opposition to work together on a unified agenda and concept.


Ahmad Mohibi, a writer and activist is the founder of Rise to Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi

Hopes For Cease-fire After The Doha Intra-Afghan Dialogue

Hopes For Cease-fire After The Doha Intra-Afghan Dialogue

Afghan representatives at Doha peace conference. July 8, 2019

Originally published in the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

An unprecedented meeting between the Taliban, Afghan officials, and delegates from various political parties and civil society last week has raised hopes for peace, but it must now be followed up by a cease-fire to pave the way to lasting peace in the country.

In the Qatari capital, Doha, a meeting co-hosted by German and Qatari officials brought together diverse factions interested in achieving lasting Afghan peace. Sixteen Taliban and 60 Afghan representatives comprising delegates from political parties, government officials, and civil society organizations engaged in discussions that led to a potentially positive arrangement.

The Doha peace talks were unlike many other conferences. The Taliban agreed to reduce their reliance on violent attacks by avoiding various public spaces. Many Afghans vulnerable to terrorism and living under severe violence have newfound hope.

It was a positive milestone for Afghans. The Taliban leadership dined with female representatives, including one of their leading critics, Fawzia Kofi, a former MP of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan Parliament. The Taliban indicated a shift in their perspective toward women by saying they would protect their rights within an Islamic framework.

Women, in particular, have been the victims of ignorance and extremism throughout the dark chapters of Afghan history. The international community’s contribution to building a democratic framework in Afghanistan resulted in the simple ability for girls to go to school.

This is a significant step in bringing peace and prosperity to the country. Women now work freely in the government and private sector. They represent an important portion of society and have been a symbol of change.

Given the Taliban’s harsh policy toward women and youth, this represents huge progress. Afghan journalist Harun Najafizada reminisced about his childhood when he and his brother Lotfullah Najifizada hid behind their mother. But now Lotfullah openly argued with Taliban representatives in Doha.

The presence and participation of youth at the Doha conference offered another noteworthy step. It was unique to see those under the age of 30 who were raised under the specter of war and feared violence by the Taliban, now sitting across from them. They ate, argued, exchanged ideas, and consequently asked for the violence to end.

Among the participants, Khalid Noor — a recent graduate of George Mason University and alum of Royal Military Academy Sandhurst — hopes for a peaceful Afghan future. He expressed satisfaction with the discussions and said he considers the Doha conference an excellent example of a way that both Taliban and Afghan representatives could “clearly raise their thoughts patiently.”

His father, Atta Mohammad Noor, had fought the Taliban as a commander of Jamiat-e Islami in the 1990s and as the longtime former governor of northern Balkh Province. He sees the Doha talks as a breakthrough. “This was unlike many other peace talks,” he said. The Doha framework was conducive to frank considerations that “both sides felt comfortable to share and they listened to each other.”

From Left, Khalid Noor and Lotfullah Najafzad at Doha peace conference.

“I really think that this was a good meeting as the two sides exchanged ideas,” he said, adding that it is “imperative to hold such talks in the future.”

A remarkable conclusion came after strong criticism and arguments. Both sides agreed to reduce violence by withholding attacks on religious centers, schools, hospitals, educational centers, bazaars, water dams, and workplaces. But the understanding now needs to translate into a tangible cease-fire across Afghanistan.

Continued peace talks and the recent nonbinding agreement with the Taliban are indicative of a few points. First, the Taliban are willing to accept some sort of cease-fire because they claim to feel remorse for killing civilians who are fellow Afghans. On the other hand, they simply may not have an alternative strategy.

Secondly, conferences in Doha, Moscow, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan denote the group’s desire to build a new reputation. Let’s not forget that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of the 1990s was toppled by the U.S. government for harboring Al-Qaeda terrorists.

Read the full article on the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty


Ahmad Mohibi, a writer and activist is the founder of Rise to Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi. 

Taliban attack threatens Afghan peace talks

On July 1st, 2019, the Taliban committed multiple attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan which killed at least forty people and injured over 100 more. The facilities damaged included the Private War Museum, a local television station, as well as a primary school. 

Soon after the attack, American and Taliban negotiators met in Qatar. The Taliban stated that their intended target was the logistics and engineering unit of the Ministry of Defense. The Interior Ministry reported that the car bomb detonated near the museum and television station after attackers entered the Defense Ministry building. 

Wounded children are taken to the hospital by the Kabul residents after the Kabul blast on July 1, 2019.

Recent peace talks involving the United States and Taliban negotiators have focused on four key issues:

  1. The Taliban will not allow fighters to utilize Afghan soil to launch attacks outside of the country
  2. Withdrawal of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces from Afghanistan
  3. An Intra-Afghan dialogue
  4. A permanent ceasefire

During the latest round of peace talks in Qatar, the Taliban restated their concerns and reasons for their bombing in Kabul. They expressed that they wanted an immediate timeline for the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan.

Taliban representatives, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, Taliban’s main negotiator is eating lunch with the Afghan delegates. in Doha peace conference. July 8, 2019 (Rise to Peace).

The American government has responded with the timeframe of at least one year to eighteen months to remove troops from the country altogether. The Afghan peace process remains challenging as there is logistical planning behind each party’s wants and needs. 

If the United States continues peace talks with the Taliban, there are significant consequences that could take place. If the American government removes troops from Afghanistan, the international civilian presence will also be significantly reduced

This is important because if NATO members leave, it will affect the security risk of civilians working in the US embassy in Afghanistan. US employees rely on NATO for threat intelligence for potential evacuation in the workplace.

Therefore, if NATO leaves, that puts all US employees at risk against extremist groups in Afghanistan- which will then cause the US and other international civilians to leave. The majority of these employees work in the intelligence community, meaning that the US would also lose sight of the security threats coming from Afghanistan. 

Consequences for the US also affect the implications for the Afghan government. For instance, the loss of external economic and security assistance. US assistance in Afghanistan is based on US security interests. Therefore, if the US military presence no longer continues in Afghanistan, then there is no further commitment to help the country’s stability. Moreover, if the amount of US civilian personnel decreases, it will limit their ability to account for funds and other logistical matters that support assistance. 

Losing such assistance will directly impact the capacity of the Afghan government,  which could lead the government to lose its legitimacy.

If the Taliban wants a negotiation with the United States, they need to take into consideration the factors that could negatively influence a potential negotiation.

In recent talks, Taliban negotiators communicated that they want intra-Afghan dialogues, but later changed their mind calling the government of Afghanistan puppets of the US. If the Taliban then decided to have a conversation with the Afghan government, this action would contradict their previous statement. 

Taliban should consider the amount of collateral damage caused by their attacks.

Furthermore, the Taliban should consider the amount of collateral damage caused by their attacks. For instance, killing innocent people, including children, in their most recent attack in Kabul, does not help alleviate the situation between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

With the costs closely outweighing the benefits, should the U.S. continue peace talks with the Taliban? Yes. The overarching goal of Afghanistan Peace Talks is an eventual ceasefire. 

If the U.S. decides to take an immediate departure from Afghanistan, then the American government is choosing to lose, and leave Afghanistan vulnerable to terrorism. 

Women in the Afghan Peace Process

Fawzia Koofi, a women’s rights activist and politician is eating lunch with members of the Taliban delegate at Doha peace conference. July 7, 2019. Image: Rise to Peace

Under Taliban rule (1996-2001), Afghan women were banned from attending schools and working as well. In addition to violating their civil and political rights, the Taliban has threatened women lives. Since the fall of the Taliban, women have feared that negotiating for a peace agreement with the Taliban meant giving up some of their rights in exchange for the chance to end the war.

In 2015, the Afghan government created a National Action Plan (NAP) that was developed to address the challenges women have faced in the areas of participation, protection, prevention, relief, and recovery.

As a result of the NAP, women have the chance to attend school and to participate in political and economic opportunities.

Women want to participate in the Afghanistan peace process.

Of 23 rounds of talks between 2005 and 2014, there were only two occasions where women were present at the table. Moreover, there has only been one minister in the Afghan government that was a woman. Women have gained the right to participate politically, but what good does that do when women’s roles aren’t addressed in the government/local sector?

There are a few ways outside of the government in which Afghan women make contributions to address violence and equality throughout the country.

Female electoral candidates work to provide a voice for uneducated women.

For example, female members of peace councils try to negotiate with insurgent leaders. By doing so, they are working to reassure their support for reintegration of Taliban fighters into the community.

Women also encourage local fighters to participate in talks within the community to address current extremist narratives. 

Involving women in the peace process could only benefit the affair. In the past, the female-led peace councils have gathered with the wives of fighters to facilitate the release of hostages, which has been successful.

Building relationships and trust with allies could lead to a negotiation between the two parties. Given the violent history towards women, it is hard to contribute to the peace movement since it’s predominantly male-led. 

Wazhma Frogh is the Cofounder of the Research Institute for Women, Peace, and Security and is one of the brave women in Afghanistan. She briefed the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on various recommendations to improve the involvement of women in the peace process.

Her advocacy included topics such as delegating a specific institution to oversee the NAP to ensure proper inclusion and implementation, allowing more women to participate in peace talks, and encouraging women to participate in the policing and security sector.

Integrating women into the political realm in a country where women have long suffered inequality could take some time to incorporate fully.

Therefore, the Afghan government should consider making small changes that further women’s participation. For instance, the government should consider including a particular amount of females in peace talks. One or two women would be better than none at all.

The government should also include women in law enforcement and security. Since local female political leaders move to represent the underrepresented women, this will provide women with more opportunities for leadership and capacity building in an area that most women fear.

This could give women the confidence they need to understand political matters in a way where they can then network in domains where men cannot. 

Afghani women today are not only moving to become more equal but wanting to partake in a way that allows them to help the entire country to progress from war. Including women in the peace process empowers them to build trust and rapport with both local communities and the government. 

Will the United States – Iran Stalemate Impact the Afghan Peace Talks?

Photo Credit: ABC News. US President Donald Trump is pictured with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton.

On 5 May 2019, United States National Security Advisor, John Bolton, announced that the US would deploy a series of aircraft carrier and bomber planes to the Persian Gulf. Bolton added that this move was meant ‘to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime’, although the United States, ‘is not seeking war with the Iranian regime.’  While US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo reaffirmed that the United States is indeed not seeking warfare with Iran, these weapons of war remain present in the country.

This affirmation of non-conflict made by Bolton contradicts the information stated in a 2015 Op-Ed that he himself published in the New York Times. In this article, Bolton clearly expressed his disbelief that Iran would consider any negotiating to deviate from its perceived nuclear program, and therefore, as the title of the 2015 Op-Ed alludes, ‘To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.’

Approximately two weeks after Mr. Bolton’s May 2019 statement, a United States intelligence assessment, sourced from three unnamed United States officials, stated that the presence of these weapons were ‘having an effect on Iranian posture and behavior.’ This irrefutable tension and foreboding of conflict between these two countries brings into question the direct and potentially detrimental impacts of this decision regarding the concurrent United States Peace Talks with Afghanistan.

International partnerships between significant national powers such as Russia, Iran, Iraq and United States remain the crux of the success of the United States peace talks with Afghanistan, yet the United States’ current situation with Iran threatens to hinder the progress greatly. Examples of the potential impact were seen in late May 2019, where Iraq held its ground, vowing they would stand with Iran amidst the United States’ fears of the ‘Iranian threat’.

It is likely and predictable that similar allegiances could be established between other nations, including those that would stand against the United States, consequently harming the progress of any reconciliation or peace-determining efforts with Afghanistan. With the Taliban exhausting Afghan and international forces, it was suggested that the United States should focus a joint effort with the Afghan government in order to negotiate with the Taliban.

Vital to mention is the relationship between Iran and Afghanistan, two nations who share a language, religion and border. Iran’s discontent, lightly put, with the United States has been demonstrated through Iran’s support for Taliban factions, which in turn contradicts the Afghan Peace talk efforts. It has even been warned by Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, that the United States and Iran are at a ‘stalemate’ and must quickly de-escalate the situation with a mutual settlement and compromise that both parties can agree upon.

It is therefore proven that absent an amicable relationship between the United Stated and Iran, the likelihood of negotiations and further progress in the Peace talks with Afghanistan diminish without say. Considering the foregoing, the presence of weapons of war in Iran, despite intention, speculated or confirmed, will continue to hinder United States peace talk progress with Afghanistan, and this vicious cycle will not cease until the United States and Iran reach a harmonious settlement.