The second meeting of the Kabul Process was held on 28 February 2018 in Kabul, where the representatives of 25 countries and 3 international organizations had participated. Making several specific recommendations to the Taliban, President Ghani announced the new peace policy of the government, which was highly reflected in the national and international media.
The new recommendation of the government enlightens the peace strategy of the government to the Taliban and most importantly, the government is ready to conduct peace talks with the Taliban without any preconditions. Before this, the Afghan government’s call on the Taliban to join the peace process was always like demanding their surrender; however, the current stance of the President is unprecedented comparing to the past 17 years even though his new stance is not clear about the presence of the foreign forces in the country.
The second meeting of Kabul Process and such an unprecedented recommendation by the Afghan President in this meeting is at a time that several days ago, the Taliban had demanded from Washington, for a second time, to settle the issue of Afghanistan through peace talks with this group.
The difference between the first and second meetings of Kabul Process, the Afghan government’s recommendations to start peace negotiations with the Taliban, the change in the government’s peace strategy and the Taliban’s probable stance regarding the new strategy of the government are issues that will be analyzed here.
The difference between the first and second meetings of Kabul Process
The first meeting of Kabul Process was held at a time that on the one hand the Quadrilateral Talks had failed and on the other hand a trilateral meeting regarding Afghanistan was held in Moscow without the invitation of the Afghan government, which provoked the Afghan government’s concern and harsh reaction. That is why the Afghan government started the Kabul Process and thus took the initiative and management of the peace talks.
In the first meeting, efforts were made to reach a regional and international consensus over an Afghan-led peace process as well as some peace recommendations were made, something which was different in the second meeting. In the second meeting, as a last chance for peace to the Taliban, the Afghan government, to a great extent, softened its position and suggested peace talks with the Taliban without any preconditions.
This time the High Peace Council (HPC) had also undertaken some efforts to prepare the mentality of public for the second meeting of Kabul process. Last month when after the bloody explosions in Kabul city, Washington and Kabul boycotted the peace process, head of HPC Mohammad Karim Khalili criticized the government’s stance and insisted that all Afghans had a consensus regarding making peace and that some circles were sabotaging this process, misusing the situation.
The change in the peace policy of the government
Between 2001 and 2013, the Afghan government’s peace process, to a larger extent, was to disarm the armed groups or to join the government in the peace process and there existed no efficient and constructive plan in this regard.
After the formation of the National Unity Government (NUG), peace became one of the most important elements of the Afghan foreign policy and efforts were made through this window; however, in the first three years, the peace initiatives were not at the hands of the Afghan government. Besides that, the Afghan government was conducting peace talks with those groups of the Taliban who laid down their arms.
With the beginning of the Kabul Process, the NUG took the initiative of the peace talks in its own hand and in its first meeting, it focused on forming a regional and international consensus over the Afghan peace process. The second meeting of Kabul process made it clear that the Afghan government is undertaking all possible efforts to encourage the Taliban to bring change in their stance and prepare them for conducting peace talks with the Afghan government without the mediations of the other countries.
In this meeting, such a softness in areas of the peace talks with the Taliban was shown on behalf of the government that was unprecedented since 2001. For the first time, President Ghani made clear and specific recommendations to the Taliban.
The government’s recommendations to the Taliban
In the second meeting of Kabul Process, President Ghani presented the Taliban with seven recommendations as a plan for peace talks, which he said will be presented through negotiations, approval, and implementation:
First; a political framework must be developed for peace: there must be a ceasefire, the Taliban must be recognized as a political party, efforts must be made to build trust, and the way must be paved for just and free elections;
Second; a legal framework must be developed for peace: if demanded, the constitution must be amended through the legal process predicted in the constitution and legal ways must be sought to release prisoners and delist the Taliban from the various sanction lists;
Third; the Afghan government must be recognized, the rule of law must be respected, the way must be paved for reforms, and steps must be held for balanced development and the return of the Afghan refugees to the country;
Fourth; plans must be developed for the security of all Afghans, particularly the security of the Taliban;
Fifth; programs must be executed for economic and social developments and a place must be considered for former fighters and migrants in the national programs;
Sixth; the support and cooperation of the international community must be attracted for peace, particularly in areas of deciding the fate of foreign fighters and removing the names of those who have joined the peace process;
Seventh; through a comprehensive and implementable framework, short-term and long-term conditions and goals must be set and an effective mechanism must be formed to monitor and evaluate development in all these areas.
According to the President, in all the areas mentioned above, the Taliban’s opinions and recommendations will be considered and they will agree on an agreeable agenda for negotiations, which will be the first phase, the negotiations phase.
“The NUG agrees with opening the office of the Taliban, issuing passports and free travel for them, contributing in removing the sanctions, paving the way for them to have access to the media, and the resettling their families,” President Ghani said.
The Afghan President said that on the one hand, Afghans supported the peace process and were tired of war and on the other hand, the international community also insisted on peace and that, currently, a regional consensus was formed about the Afghan peace process.
In the meanwhile, the President also tried to remove some obstacles. About the women rights, which is always raised by some circles as an obstacle, the President said in the meeting that the women would actively take part in this process and their rights will not be breached.
The Taliban’s reaction
Until these lines are being written, the Taliban have not announced their formal stance regarding the recent position of President Ghani. However, from a political piece published on their webpage, one can conclude their indirect stance. In this article, although the recent remarks of President Ghani is praised and his tune is presumed peaceful, the government’s silence about the presence of the foreign forces in the country is said to be a shortcoming of the new peace policy because, it has added, the Taliban fight to end the foreigners’ presence in the country, not for political positions.
Besides that, in response to an open letter of an American Diplomat Barrent Robin, the Taliban had said that the government wanted the Taliban’s surrender from this group. Nevertheless, this is not the Taliban’s formal response and the Taliban may soon announce their stance regarding the recent scheme of President Ghani.
The precondition of the full withdrawal of the foreign forces for starting the peace talks and the issue of American and NATO forces’ pulling out without any agreement can have similar consequence as the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan and, on the other hand, it was hard for the government to make any public remarks about the presence of the foreign forces in the country at present time. Therefore, the Taliban may realize the situation and at least the Taliban’s stance will not be negative, as was always the case in the past. Nevertheless, if the Taliban showed a complete negative response, it will completely kill any hopes left for peace.
On the one hand, the Taliban have suggested direct talks with the US and have called the Afghan government to be without any real authority; on the other hand, while presenting the new peace policy, President Ghani said that the new policy must not be presumed as the weakness of the government and begging for peace but rather the nation’s demand. Thus, both parties want to enter the peace process from a position of strength, something that has faced the process with obstacles this far.
It seems that ignoring the Afghan government in the peace process, the Taliban will be making the same mistake that was made during the 2001 Bonn Conference because the Afghan government cannot be expelled from these negotiations. Therefore, it will be very good for all parties, if the Taliban accept the government’s recommendations. Nonetheless, these negotiations must become quadrilateral and the US and one powerful guarantor must also be added to the negotiating parties. But if the US, once again, avoided entering this process, it will fail the peace process to a great extent.