WEBCAST: What's Next for the Peace and Reconciliation Process in Afghanistan?
One month ago, the U.S. government and the Taliban signed a troop withdrawal agreement that paved the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue meant to end a nearly 19-year war. However, due to various obstacles, and despite extensive mediation by senior U.S. officials, including a surprise visit to Kabul by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on March 23, that dialogue has not begun. In the meantime, the Taliban has stepped up attacks. Still, recent developments, including progress on a Taliban prisoner release plan, suggest the stalemate could soon end. This online-only event, organized by the Wilson Center's Asia Program in partnership with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, will discuss where things stand with peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan; what can be done to overcome the challenges; what the coronavirus could mean for Afghan peace prospects; and what role Washington should play.
“Afghanistan is facing at the same time three major crises. The first one is the deadlock in the negotiations with the Taliban; the second is the political crisis between two main rivals, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and President Ashraf Ghani; and the third one is the coronavirus.”
“The Afghan government was not a party to the deal made between the Taliban and the United States. Therefore, the Afghan government had its own point of view about to release or not to release prisoners, and they are saying the prisoner release should be an outcome of the negotiations, not the beginning of the negotiations.”
“The opportunity for peace and negotiations should be used to resolve issues and problems—some fundamental problems—in Afghanistan which go beyond the war and the conflict.”
“It looks like Secretary Pompeo is still pushing for an inclusive government between Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani because after the formation of the peace negotiations by President Ghani, Secretary Pompeo tweeted and said that he welcomes and that he urged both sides to create an inclusive government.”
“[The negotiations are] turning into an elite-based political process rather than a comprehensive peace process, which all of us have been pushing a lot. So…that people’s element, that element is fading away because of this dynamism which is coming up, and it is shrinking—the process is shrinking—to be confined to only specific, very focused, elite-based, top level approach, which is losing its attraction and confidence and trust among the population.”
“The COVID-19 has certainly undermined the entire process…People are more concerned about their socioeconomic life, rather than their political life.”
“We have three major things that have to be discussed during the intra-Afghan talks. The first is the organization of the state; the second is the basic care rights of individuals and people; and the third is the prospect for foreign policy…and now these two different political leaders have different views about these issues…my take is the division and divide between President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah could seriously impact both the process and the result of intra-Afghan talks.
“Secretary Pompeo visited Kabul last week…slashing one billion dollars in aid, releasing an incredibly harsh statement about the disappointment over the crisis, and then immediately flying to Doha to meet with Mullah Baradar, which is strangely giving the appearance somehow the U.S. being more able to work with the Taliban…Of course, the reality is certainly more complex and more nuanced than that, but I do think you see the Taliban kind of benefitting from that domestic political crisis.”
“It is certainly hard to see how intra-Afghan talks will move forward as originally envisioned—as envisioned even a couple of weeks ago. But that said, a health crisis like this [COVID-19] can also be an opportunity diplomatically. It could be an opportunity for all sides to come together on something apolitical, establish a humanitarian dialogue that acts as not only something that solves an actual crisis, but acts as a confidence building measure and keeps the dialogue going, at least on this issue.”
“It’s an interesting calculation they’re making. There’s been a high degree of strategic ambiguity around expectations that the Taliban would reduce violence. And the Taliban seems to have correctly calculated how much violence they can actually get away with.”
“That’s exactly what the Taliban has done—divide and rule. It divided communities throughout the countryside. That’s where they found traction. They have tried to play politics in many other ways, and certainly what they want is to have a government in which they’ll share power, or they’ll include certain factions.”
“I believe very strongly that the U.S. should get behind the appointment of an empowered mediator, a neutral mediator. I don’t think that the U.S. is in a position to provide that mediating itself. I don’t think that a relatively weak technocratic facilitator will do what is necessary in trying to move this process forward.”
“There has been some discussion about that kind of outcome for a peace process, with pushing all the more substantive issues later down the road…I do agree you don’t want to overload the process, but on the other hand, being insufficiently ambitious puts the process at risk of producing a result that just cannot be realistically implemented and sustained, and of course, Afghanistan has its own negative history with these kinds of agreements.”
“The crucial role for Pakistan, for Iran, for China, for Russia, for others, is going to be if this process starts to gain traction, pressing the parties on both sides to stick with it and to compromise, that leverage is going to be needed to be exerted on all parties if this is ever going to produce a result.
About the Speakers:
Sami Mahdi is the Kabul bureau chief of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Afghan Service, locally known as Radio Azadi. He also teaches at the Public Administration and Policy School of Kabul University. Previously, he was director of PAYK Investigative Journalism Center. He also held a series of senior positions with Afghan media outlets. These include strategic advisor to Tolonews, CEO of Khurshid TV, and director of news and current affairs at 1TV. He is also a former Fulbright scholar and the recipient of the Knight International Journalism Award from the International Center for Journalists.
Nilofar Sakhi is professorial lecturer in International Affairs at the George Washington University. She previously taught at George Mason University as an adjunct faculty. Her regional expertise is on South Asia, Iran and Afghanistan. She has managed and implemented a wide range of development and governance programs including human security implementation, democracy and civil society, women’s rights, higher education, and private sector development. She has been involved in Afghan peace process issues since 2010 and remains a regular commentator and writer on peacemaking and peacebuilding in Afghanistan. She has held fellowships at Columbia, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Asia Society.
Ashley Jackson is a research associate with the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think tank. At ODI, she led a multiyear project on humanitarian dialogue with armed groups and conducted extensive research on protection, civil-military relations, governance in fragile states, and displacement. She has conducted dialogue with and research on 27 armed factions across 13 countries, including with the Afghan Taliban, Al-Shabaab, various Syrian factions, and Hamas. She was recently based in Afghanistan, conducting doctoral research on how the Taliban governs and provides basic services in areas it controls. Previously, she served as an advisor to the UK Parliament on Afghanistan and worked in Afghanistan with the UN and Oxfam.
Laurel Miller is Asia Program director at the International Crisis Group. Previously, she was a senior foreign policy expert at the RAND Corporation. Her work at RAND covered a wide range of subjects including conflict resolution, democratization, institution-building, and anti-corruption around the world. From 2013 to 2017, she was the deputy and then acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. Department of State. Her previous U.S. government service positions include senior advisor to the U.S. special envoy for the Balkans. She was directly involved in peace negotiations in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia.
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