Taliban and Afghan representatives, including some government officials, agreed Tuesday to a basic road map for negotiating the country’s political future, a major step that could help propel peace efforts to end the long war, now in its 18th year.
کد خبر: ۹۱۰۳۲۷
تاریخ انتشار: ۱۸ تير ۱۳۹۸ - ۰۸:۲۵ 09 July 2019

Taliban and Afghan representatives, including some government officials, agreed Tuesday to a basic road map for negotiating the country’s political future, a major step that could help propel peace efforts to end the long war, now in its 18th year.

In a joint declaration after two days of unprecedented and often emotional discussions in the Qatari capital, Doha, the two sides emphasized a need to work for reducing “civilian casualties to zero” and assuring women their fundamental rights in “political, social, economic, educational, cultural affairs.”

The declaration is not binding, and at best is a starting point for when the two sides meet later for negotiations that could lead to fixed terms.

But even if the declaration might not immediately de-escalate the violence in Afghanistan, it does help push forward a peace process between U.S. diplomats and the Taliban that has been making strides in negotiations, but which has been struggling to overcome the Taliban’s refusal to meet with Afghan government officials.

The Taliban have said direct negotiations with the Afghans would start only after the United States announces a timeline for the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

U.S. negotiators are in the middle of the seventh round of talks with the Taliban over the withdrawal of troops in return for a commitment from the insurgents that Afghan soil would not again be used to launch terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies. Those talks, also held in Doha, paused for the two days of the “intra-Afghan dialogue,” and are expected to resume Tuesday with the hopes of finalizing an agreement.

In a sign that U.S. officials saw progress on the Afghan-Taliban discussions as crucial to moving all the pieces of a comprehensive peace deal forward, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy leading the negotiations with the Taliban, was a regular presence on the margins of the intra-Afghan discussions. He attended both the opening and closing sessions and appeared to chat with participants during some of the breaks.

“There was a very friendly atmosphere and sincere atmosphere and everyone shared their views,” said Sher Mohammad Abas Stanekzai, the most senior member of the Taliban delegation and their chief negotiator. “When we finalize our negotiations with the Americans and get a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops, then we will enter direct negotiations with the Afghan side for the internal matters of our country.”

Nader Nadery, head of the Afghan government civil service commission and one of the participants, said the conference had provided an important platform for sharing grievances.

“I think the two days of discussions has helped our realization of who the Taliban are, what they want, and they know who we are and what we want,” he said.

The war has grown particularly violent in recent years, with the death toll rising for Afghan forces, Taliban militants and the civilians stuck in between. Just as the delegates filed in for first morning of discussions, a Taliban bombing on an intelligence facility left 14 people dead and about 170 people wounded. Most of the wounded were civilians, who included schoolchildren.

The joint Afghan-Taliban declaration calls for assuring security for public institutions like schools, hospitals and residential areas. The participants “committed to respect and protect the dignity of people, their life and property and to minimize the civilian casualties to zero,” the declaration read.

The statement also called for trust-building measures, like the “unconditional release of elderly, disabled and ill inmates,” before the direct negotiations.

“This will help us get to direct intra-Afghan negotiations, but we need to know that 18 years of war cannot be resolved in two days,” said Anarkali Honaryar, an Afghan senator and part of the delegation from Kabul. “There were differences of opinion, but both sides displayed great patience in how they shared those opinions. That’s a big thing.”

Germany and Qatar, the co-hosts of the event, welcomed the declaration, with officials from both countries appearing pleased with how the discussions had turned out. Qatar had tried in April to host the event, but the effort collapsed at the last minute after disagreements over a list of participants.

“We hope that this event will mark the beginning of a meaningful process which will lead to a comprehensive and sustainable peace for Afghanistan,” the organizers said in a joint statement.

The two days of dialogue represented the first time the Taliban had engaged in substantial debate on issues, breaking with the former practice of mostly reading prepared statements.

Many of the sessions were tense and emotional. Several of the participants from the Afghan delegation had lost family members to suicide bombings and Taliban attacks. On the insurgents’ side, many had spent years in detention.

While the delegation from Kabul challenged the Taliban on their attacks resulting in civilian casualties, the insurgents pushed back by highlighting civilian harm caused by operations of Afghan and U.S. forces.

One of the most heated exchanges was over who gets to interpret Islam. When the discussion turned to basic rights like women’s education and freedom of press, the Taliban couched their support with the caveat that those rights must be granted within the restrictions of Islam. Skeptics see that stance as allowing them future leverage to restrict freedoms.

One of the Taliban speakers argued that those restrictions would not be an issue for most Afghans, as the modern values propagated by a few urbanites are a product of the West.

The debate carried over to a lunch table where Ershad Ahmadi, a former deputy foreign minister, engaged with the Taliban speaker.

“The only way out of this is if you accept the diversity of this country — that I respect your way, and you respect how I live my life,” Ahmadi said he told the Taliban official.

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