Afghanistan Negotiation Update

The ongoing negotiations to end the conflict in Afghanistan has faced significant obstacles over the past few weeks. Despite being in active negotiations with the United States government, the Taliban still announced the start of their Spring Offensive on April 11th. This was a disappointing setback, as the United Nations had just lifted travel bans on 11 senior leaders of the Taliban to help facilitate peace talks with the United States. There were also plans for the Taliban to meet with an Afghan delegation. However, the Afghan government, upset due to their exclusion from talks, announced their spring offensive a month earlier (albeit potentially in error).

Moving forward, negotiators have focused on transitioning the talks towards the Taliban meeting with Afghans, including delegates from the government, to work on discussing the country’s future. Unfortunately, this was especially difficult as the Afghan side struggled to form a negotiating team that was satisfactory to all parties. As a result, the negotiating team had swelled to 250 delegates, including politicians and civic leaders from across Afghan society. This caused significant problems, as the Taliban were upset over the size and composition of the Afghan delegation, and eventually the scheduled talks were canceled. President Ghani’s government issued a statement which blamed Qatar for not accepting the list and instead proposing a list that disrespected the “national will of the Afghan people”. While the Taliban have not commented on the cancellation, President Ghani’s statements appear to indicate that the Taliban’s main issue with the delegation was the inclusion of members of President Ghani’s administration, which the Taliban have steadfastly refused to engage with, labeling Ghani an American puppet. With President Ghani fighting for reelection later this year, he is desperate to show the Afghanistan people that he is capable of securing peace for the country, and the lack of direct negotiations with the Taliban has hurt his campaign.

After the controversial parliamentary elections last, President Ghani called for an assembly, known as a loya Jirga, to discuss with his fellow Afghanis ways to bring an end to the conflict. He has invited thousands of politicians, religious scholars, and rights activists to participate in the discussion. However, several opposition leaders have accused President Ghani of merely using the forum to boost his campaign for a second term in the upcoming September elections. These opposition leaders have said they will boycott the assembly, seeing it as a thinly veiled attempt by Ghani to finally have some influence on the peace process and cement his position for a second term. Opposition politicians in fact have called for Ghani to step down when his mandate ends next month, and allow an interim government to engage the Taliban in peace talks. President Ghani has refused, stating that as President he represents the will of the Afghan people.

However, international pressure has increased, pushing the Taliban towards negotiations with the Afghan government. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has come out and said in a statement that Pakistan would no longer be a party to the Afghanistan conflict. While Pakistan has always denied provided support to the Afghanistan Taliban, this statement puts some public pressure on the side of the insurgents. Interestingly, American, Russian, and Chinese representatives met in Moscow last Thursday in an attempt to come together and put pressure on the Taliban to engage with the Ghani administration. U.S. officials had previously accused Russian efforts in the peace process as “meddling”, but now it seems both countries are united in their efforts to bring the Taliban to the table.