Intra-Afghan Peace Talks in the Absence of Afghan Government

Members of each delegation in Moscow beside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Image credit: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters.

Afghanistan has a long history of participating in local and international conferences on peace. The Bonn Conference was the start of a series of other conferences on peace and stability hosted in Afghanistan. The Afghan government has put together or at least sent a delegation to myriad conferences to gain international support for their peace efforts with opposition groups in the country.

Despite this trend, the last Moscow Peace talks were held in Russia without the presence of an Afghan government delegation. Organized by an Afghan-Russian Association, the conference took place six days after successful talks between the US and the Taliban occurred in Doha, according to US Special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. The Taliban refused any direct conversation with the Afghan government, but agreed to sit down with delegations from the United Sates, India, Pakistan, China, and prominent Afghan political figures including Hanif Attmar- a favorite to take over as president in the upcoming presidential elections- to talk peace. In the meantime, the Afghan government, the main absentee of the conference, called them traitors and urgently called for direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

After two days of negotiations in Moscow, an agreement was reached. The Taliban, accusing the Kabul government of being an “American puppet”, asked for a withdrawal of American forces from the country, the release of detainees, and the inclusion of the principle of Islamic Religion in the constitution. Former president Hamid Karzai, leading the Afghan delegation, declared the talks a “big achievement” that would bring peace and stability in an “Afghanistan free of foreign forces”. Current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared the Afghan delegation in Moscow illegitimate to represent Afghanistan in the conference.

Russia has been a low-key player in Afghan affairs since the beginning of the War on Terror. The Russian government, concerned about  security in the Central Asia, keeps a close eye on Afghanistan. The latest peace talk in Moscow was a step by Russia towards taking a major role in influencing Afghan governmental affairs, and sets precedent for future Russian involvement in Afghanistan.

Seeing the Taliban sitting at the table with decades-old political enemies to talk peace is the long-awaited desire of all Afghans, but it certainly poses risks. The Taliban went to Moscow demanding what seems to be the return of the Taliban regime of the 1990s, the withdrawal of foreign forces, Sharia Law, and no sign of womens’ appearance within the government. The Afghan delegation, on the other hand, was comprised mainly of political figures who fought on the front lines of the fight against the Taliban. Thanks to differences  between these two parties and the disparity in their motivations for negotiating, the fear is that an agreement between them would be more of a political move to grasp power in Kabul than a long-term solution for peace.

Afghanistan: What Does Peace with the Taliban Mean for Women?

Source: PRI (2016)

The United States and leaders of the Afghan Taliban are currently in the process of discussing peace talks and negotiations to end the 17 years of conflict. For many, this is a signal of hope that deadly violence and war will finally come to an end. For others, the peace talks have stimulated fear and uncertainty.

Her name is Laila Haidari. She is an Afghan woman, who owns and operates a rather unruly cafe in Kabul. Ms. Haidari is not your typical woman living in Afghanistan. In fact, she drives her own car, owns her own business, and chooses not to wear the required hijab.

The cafe she runs, “Taj Begum”, allows men and women to eat and drink together, even if they are not married. In addition, within the walls of her cafe, women can choose whether or not they dine wearing the hijab; a decision woman don’t typically have in Afghanistan.

Ms. Haidari is an example of an Afghan who isn’t completely convinced on the Taliban-U.S. peace process. Despite the progress of the talks, she insists the Taliban and their severe rulings are coming back. For Ms. Haidari and many other women living in Afghanistan, the peace talks have provoked fear and worry of what will happen in the aftermath of the withdrawal of western troops. Ms. Haidari states, “We are face to face with an ideology, not a group of people.” Ms. Haidari and the many other women in Afghanistan feel optimism at the possibility of peace, but they remain concerned at the distrust of what their lives and freedom will be like in the future.

When the Taliban seized the Afghan capital in 1996, life under the militants was brim, especially for women. The implementation of a brutal version of Sharia Law meant that women had very little to no independence or basic rights. They were forced to wear burkas, covering essentially every inch of their body.

Women of all ages were banned from schools and public life. Their lives were constantly under a magnifying glass. Everything they wore, everything they said, and everywhere they went was under supervision. Ultimately, it was the women in Afghanistan who paid the highest price under the Taliban and their government.

During the peace talks in Moscow, the Taliban seemed open to addressing the rights and concerns related to women. For example, the Taliban promised “that Islam guaranteed women’s rights to education and work”, but on the other hand, the Taliban also “attacked women’s rights activists for spreading immortality and indecency.”

These contradictory messages have given ammunition to the fears and concerns of women in Afghanistan that the Taliban is making false, empty promises to expedite the departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, only to eventually regress to old laws and rules that severely affect the daily lives of Afghans.

The fact that the Afghan government and its citizens have been excluded from the peace process is frightening for them. Many women fear that a peace deal giving power to the Taliban will result in a war on women and their rights. All of these concerns only solidify the notion that Afghans, especially women, should have a seat at the negotiation table.

Without their presence, the likelihood that women’s basic rights will be forgotten is painfully high. Their biggest fear is that women and all the freedoms they have achieved will fall victim to the peace process.

Afghanistan has made tremendous progress over the past decade in terms of women’s rights, independence and quality of life. Today, there are young girls being educated in many disciplines and pursuing careers in medicine, government and education.

But still today, there are provinces within the country that impose barbaric laws and treatment of women and girls. This brutality and oppression cannot be ignored and there is still significant headway ahead. For Afghans, the time has come to rebuild their country and continue to move forward. Peace, stability and happiness are all things the people of Afghanistan yearn for, but peace in Afghanistan should never come at the cost of women and their rights.

Old Crisis Sparks Anew: The Bogota Car Bombing

Source: The Tico Times (2019) 

Author: Billy Baker

Colombia has a bloody history of political violence (La Violencia, FARC, ELN). But after the peace agreement with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in 2016 and the peace talks with ELN (National Liberation Army), many thought that this would be the end of the bloodshed.

That was until January 17th, 2019, when a vehicle drove into the National Police Academy in Bogota, Colombia. The truck, armed with explosives, sped into the facility until hitting a wall. This triggered the detonation, killing 21 people (including the driver) and injuring 68 others. This marked the deadliest attack in 16 years.

Shortly after the bombing, ELN members in Colombia claimed responsibility for the attack. This has stalled peace talks currently being held in Cuba, although ELN chief negotiator, Pablo Beltran, has denied involvement in the attack. Colombian President Ivan Duque is now calling for the Cuban government to arrest and extradite the ELN negotiators in the country.

The Cuban government has responded by stating that they will follow the previously agreed protocol for a break in the dialogue. The protocol for this situation allows ELN negotiators to travel back to Colombia through Venezuela in a safe manner. It also requires the Colombian military not to engage any identified rebel strongholds for a 72-hour period during their return.

So what does this mean for the future? This single attack has damaged prospects for peace between ELN and the Colombian government, with the possibility of bringing back an escalation of widespread violence that Colombia has not experienced for years. This is unfortunately a possibility for a variety of reasons (low popularity for President Márquez, widespread disgust against ELN’s attack, need to respond to the attack).

It is necessary for the Colombian government to respond to the violence and crime that ELN has committed over the years. Along with the attack in Bogota, ELN has committed numerous attacks since peace talks began. Peace talks have proved difficult due to the group’s decentralized structure. This most recent attack by ELN has caused uncertainty about the future of political violence in Colombia.

https://www.voanews.com/a/yemen-s-houthis-want-un-guarantees-for-delegation-as-peace-talks-stall/4562217.html

Yemeni Violence Escalates as Peace Talks Crumble

https://www.voanews.com/a/yemen-s-houthis-want-un-guarantees-for-delegation-as-peace-talks-stall/4562217.html

Yemen Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani walks in a hotel lobby in Geneva, Sept. 7, 2018. https://www.voanews.com/a/yemen-s-houthis-want-un-guarantees-for-delegation-as-peace-talks-stall/4562217.html

UN-sponsored peace talks seemed to provide a ray of hope for Yemen. But within hours of the talks stalling, air-raid alarms blared through the Yemeni city Hodeidah — confirmation that hopes for peace were misplaced. The dead include rebels, government officials, and civilians. The international community must find a way forward for the sake of Yemen’s people.

UN Resolution 2216 called for all parties — Houthi rebels, government representatives, and Saudi-coalition forces — to deconflict and participate in peace talks. The Houthis did not show up for peace talks, however. Unsurprisingly, this angered the Yemeni government. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths hosted talks with Yemen’s internationally recognized government despite the Houthi absence. They discussed prisoner releases, humanitarian aid logistics, and a timeline for re-opening the airport.

After three days of one-sided discussion and stalling, Griffiths confirmed that Houthis would not show.

Yemen Minister Khaled al-Yamani felt the UN failed to sufficiently pressure the Houthis to attend the talks and negotiate in good faith. As the rhetoric in Geneva intensified, the Houthis sent word that they skipped the talks because their transport and medical care access demands were inadequately vouchsafed. After three days of one-sided discussion and stalling, Griffiths confirmed that Houthis would not show. He suggested theirs was a logistical travel issue, not a political stance. Insisting that Ansar Allah (Houthi rebels) wanted to be present and were disappointed not to be, he vowed to reschedule talks at a location and time which has yet to be determined.  He hopes to meet with Houthi leaders next week.

The talks would have been the first in two years of conflict in Yemen and they would have represented a step toward establishing safety and reducing the humanitarian crisis’s magnitude. Iranian-backed Houthis stormed Yemen in 2014, even taking control of the capital in Sanaa, plunging the country into violence. In 2015 Saudi-Arabia and its allies launched a strong military defense of the internationally recognized Yemeni government. In so doing, it escalated the situation and subjected more than 20 million civilians to the throes of a humanitarian crisis.

UNICEF has reported widespread hunger, disease, and violence impacting more than 11 million children. The EU has called Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. It has no resistance to the devastation the conflict has wrought. The Saudi coalition has bombed schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. As often as not, ammunition supplied to the coalition has come from the US and UK. Of comparable concern is the Houthi strategy of indiscriminately firing into cities and towns, terrorizing civilian populations, The Houthis have also planted hundreds of landmines.

UNHCR and Human Rights Watch have called for independent investigations into the actions of participants from all sides.

The crossfire has killed protected populations including activists, journalists, and aid workers in addition to civilians. Coalition and Houthi forces have stalled and stolen aid at the ports. UNHCR and Human Rights Watch have called for independent investigations into the actions of participants from all sides.

More than anyone, it is the people of Yemen who suffer as the Shia-affiliated Houthi and the Sunni-aligned Saudi coalition slug it out. Limited enforceable legal protections leave women and children especially vulnerable. It is critical that the peace talks move forward. Humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Yemen must resume at once. 

US-Taliban Peace Talks: An Opportunity For Peace?

The United States is planning to lead direct talks with the Taliban in an effort to end the 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

The United States plans to lead peace talks with the Taliban in an effort to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan. The New York Times reported in recent weeks U.S. delegates have visited Kabul and Pakistan to discuss the aforementioned US-Taliban talks.

Last week, Secretary Pompeo promised to support the Afghan government in peace negotiations. Pompeo reiterated the strategy announced last year by President Donald Trump which focuses on additional U.S. troops in the country as a tool to pressure the Taliban to negotiate with Afghan leadership. “The strategy sends a clear message to the Taliban that they cannot wait us out,” Pompeo said.

The Taliban and Afghan security forces greet each other during the cease-fire in Kabul. Photo by Ahmad Mohibi, June 16, 2018

Tuesday, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen John. Nicholson said the U.S. is not replacing the Afghan government in the peace talks. “The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government,” Nicholson said.

But during his trip to Kandahar, he said, “Our Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces.  We hope this will help move the peace process forward.”

The State Department added that “any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and the Afghan government.”

The Taliban cheered the prospect of direct U.S. talks. They do not want to negotiate with Afghan leadership, which see as illegitimate and incapable of offering them valuable concessions. Sohail Shahin, spokesman from the Taliban’s Qatar office, told Aljazeera, “This is what we wanted, and what were waiting for – to sit with the U.S. directly and discuss the withdrawal of foreign troops.”

Political leaders and Afghans believe peace is possible if Afghans lead the way. Only the Afghans can win this war. Neither U.S. troops nor U.S.-Taliban peace talks will pacify Afghanistan.

In fact, U.S. involvement may be exacerbating fundamental tensions. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai stated recently in an interview with Ahmad Mohibi, “The Taliban want to negotiate with the U.S. because the Afghan National Unity Government is weak. The Taliban sees themselves as stronger than the Afghan government. They believe the U.S. is the power-holder in this dynamic.” Karzai advocates an Afghan peace process led and implemented by Afghans. “Peace is possible in Afghanistan if it’s a pure process in which Afghans are involved in every aspect of talks,” Karzai said

Taliban supporter biking around the city of Kabul during the ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban. June 17, 2018 Photo by Ahmad Mohibi

Attempts at Afghan peace talks date back to 2006 – a year of deadly terrorist attacks and suicide bombings that saw in excess of 4,000 people dead, including 170 foreigners. This was a dramatic uptick in suicide bombings and it came in the wake of the War on Terror, which began in 2001. But that same year, 2006, at a Shia religious gathering, Hamid Karzai invited the Taliban to participate in peace talks. Karzai said, “While we are fighting for our honor, we still open the door for talks and negotiations with an enemy who is shedding our blood and bent our annihilation.”

Since then, Afghan and American governments, the international community, NATO, and Afghanistan’s neighbors have supported peace talks. Yet, despite the deployment of 15,000 U.S. troops and 17 years of U.S. and international support, the Taliban has gained territory, suicide bombings surge, and more terror groups are coalescing. And the Taliban are unwilling to negotiate with the Afghan government.

However, that the role of the United States in the peace process remains necessary to ensure other state actors, such as Pakistan, which continues to provide material support to the Taliban, push them to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table. Together peace can be achieved, but only through a recognition of the Afghan lead in these efforts.

There is still a chance for peace. Afghans are hardworking people with the courage to build their homeland.  Americans are thoughtful and passionate people that are willing to help Afghans win the peace. 


Ahmad Shah Mohibi is founder and president of Rise to Peace and a national security expert. Ahmad Mohibi is a published writer as well as a George Washington University and George Mason University Alumni. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi