by Ahmad Shah Katawazai 19 November 2018
Second Round of Talks between U.S. and Taliban concludes without an agreement
Second round of meeting between the Taliban and the U.S. special envoy for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad ended without any agreement. Earlier there were reports that the U.S. government is considering postponement of the Afghan presidential elections which was categorically rejected by all sides including the Afghan government.
Khalilzad has been meeting several influential Afghan politicians including some notorious warlords. Khalilzad meetings were mainly focused on peace negotiations with the Taliban. His plan to broker a deal with the Taliban in less than a year seems too ambitious as there are many angles to the Taliban insurgency and the problem seems far complex with the meddling of countries like Pakistan, Iran, and Russia.
Two rounds of talks with the Taliban have been held so far, after the U.S. government succumbed to the Taliban demand of direct conversation with the U.S. officials instead of Afghan government.
Adding to the already complex issue recently a controversial peace conference was held by Russia. Taliban top demand of a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan was once again stressed in the conference. The Moscow talks were originally scheduled to take place in September. But the talks got postponed after Kabul government insisted that the process should be Afghan-led and the fact that the Afghan government was not kept in the loop from the very beginning of the effort. Critics point out that Russia talks could derail the peace efforts as already U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been trying to convince the Taliban to agree to negotiate an end to the 17 years long war in Afghanistan.
Russia justified its hosting of the peace conference, alleging the United States and NATO for its failure to end the 17 years long war. In this conference was the first of its type where Taliban officially appeared in public pushing for their demands for peace process.
Reports regarding suspension of the upcoming presidential elections sparked criticism from various political parties and has received a frosty reception from the public.
There are two options at the table in case the presidential elections are postponed for the sake of ongoing peace talks with the Taliban. Option first will be establishment of an interim government. This will be similar to the one orchestrated in 2001 at Bonn conference, where an interim government will take the power and after a deal is reached with the Taliban, elections will be held inclusive of the Taliban.
Another option is to held a traditional Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) which will make a decision with the consultation of influential people from throughout the country.
In case the presidential elections are delayed and suppose there is a change in the structure of the government. What will happen to the parliamentary elections that were held last week? Taliban were excluded from those elections. Taliban will definitely reject the parliamentary elections as they were not part of that. Which will spark another crisis.
Chief Executive (CEO) position remains another issue that was introduced by U.S. secretary of state John Kerry after political bickering between Ghani and Abdullah over electoral rigging. CEO position was something new and completely against the constitution. Whether this position will remain intact or will be abolished in the next elections, remains a question for the Afghan government and people.
The Grand Coalition of Afghanistan recently announced that they will put forward three vice presidents instead of two asking for a change in the set-up which is in contravention to the law. The Grand Coalition proposal includes a presidential candidate, his three vice presidents as well as a prime minister and his three deputies, a complex combination which don’t seems to be practical. Prime minister is not mentioned anywhere in the constitution or electoral laws and most likely the election commission will not grant them an election ticket as it is in contravention of the law. No one has the right to amend the constitution, except traditional Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly).
Afghanistan issues are already complex and fragile. New proposals and ideas contrary to the constitution will bring more crisis and undermine the already established fledgling institutions.
On the other hand, consultation among politicians and warlords for coalition building has speeded up, all jockeying for political influence and share in the next government. President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Former National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Former Interior Minister Mohammad Umer Daudzai, former Afghan Ambassador to India Shaida Mohammad Abdali, a candidate of Jamiat (to be named) have so far shown their interest to nominate themselves for the next year’s presidential elections.