Analysis of the week:

The United States and the Taliban opened the seventh round of negotiations in Doha last week in a hope to reach a breakthrough agreement. This series of negotiations has started nine months ago in a bid to end the four decades of war in Afghanistan. According to reports, both sides talked about four main issues including, a timeline for the US forces withdrawal from Afghanistan, counterterrorism assurances, ceasefire and direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. These were also the main topics of the sixth round of talks between the two rivals with the difference that in this rounds both sides have indicated to have reached a broader agreement on the issues. These talks took longer than expected. As initially they were intended to wrap up in three days but lasted six days. The US and the Taliban are said to have finalized a draft agreement. The agreement is said to be sent to the Taliban top leader Mullah Haibatullah for a review and endorsement.

Compared to the last six rounds of talks, this round was met with some levels of optimism mainly due to the satisfaction of both sides. On Wednesday, Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s political spokesman in Doha, said that “80-90 percent work on the peace agreement is finished”. “Spectacular progress made in this round. He added, without giving further details. One of the important outcomes of these talks is the upcoming intra-Afghan dialogue hosted jointly by Germany and Qatar. This meeting is scheduled to take place in Doha on 7 and 8 July at which Taliban representatives are expected to hold talks with representatives of Afghan political forces, civil society, women’s rights activists and the Afghan government. In a statement, the German special envoy for Afghanistan has said that all the participants will attend in person in the talks. The Afghan political forces, civil society activists and government representatives will exchange views with the Taliban negotiators in the talks. Perhaps, the 7th and 8th of July’s meeting in Doha will be the start of several meetings between the Taliban representatives and other Afghans. This meeting is, however not a first of its kind. The first such encounter in Moscow was heralded as a breakthrough but many sensitive issues including women’s rights, foreign military withdrawal, Al-Qaeda and power-sharing with the Taliban remain unresolved.

Though it is a positive step and achievement towards intra-Afghan talks, these talks are engulfed by a sense of mixed reactions including, doubts, pessimism and in the meantime, some level of optimism. Many who doubt the success of this dialogue are of the view that, First; there is no guarantee so far for anyone to believe that the Taliban would agree to lay down their weapons. The Taliban recently killed civilians and injured schoolchildren in Kabul. The Taliban’s recent car bomb attack has created panic among the people throughout Kabul. The very important question now is why there should be intra-Afghan talks without the guarantee of a ceasefire? Have the Taliban during the negotiations being held behind closed doors guaranteed that they would end violence and not carry out more suicide attacks in the country? Second, the dialogue is in a very early stage and there will be only exchange of ideas, general statements and substantial talks on a general agreement will not be possible due to the fact that it would be like a conference, not a negotiation format. The only agreement we can expect from such a conference will be the continuation of such dialogue in the future.  Third, as indicated by the hosts namely Germany and Qatar and also by Ambassador Khalilzad and the Taliban, representatives from the Afghan political forces will only participate in this dialogue in their personal capacity, and there will be no representative from the Afghan government. This raises the concern that it would be one of those previous conferences where the Taliban tried to legitimize themselves and demonstrate to the participants that the Afghan government is not in the position to talk to. In this case, no agreement will be reached and even if an agreement is there, there will be no guarantee to execute or implement the agreement in the absence of the Afghan government. Fourth, as the presidential election is scheduled for September this year, the level of attention to the peace process and implementation of any deal will naturally decrease to its lowest, more likely due to the fact that all the political parties will enter into an election and campaign mood. If concrete agreements between Afghan political forces and the Taliban are not made, all the current efforts will go in vain and peace will be put on hold as a second priority.

Nevertheless, those who are optimistic about the future of peace in Afghanistan, especially, after the seventh round of US-Taliban talks believe differently. They think that it is a critical time to reach an Afghan agreement and they think that the 7&8 July conference could lead to positive outcomes generally, because both the US and the Taliban are committed to the peace process; the Taliban and the Afghan government and other political forces are also in favor of ending the violence and the political dynamics in the region are also ready to prepare ground for a political settlement in Afghanistan.

Despite positive signs for peace in Afghanistan, participants of the intra-Afghan dialogue on July 7 and 8th should prioritize agreement on stopping violence and armed hostility. The end to violence and bloodshed is first and foremost for the people of Afghanistan. If the bloodshed continues, then there is no one who will support the intra-Afghan talks. Germany, the United States, Qatar, Russia and other countries that have helped to pave the grounds for the intra-Afghan talks should also take this into account. Politicians who have decided to talk with the Taliban next week should indicate to them that if they want to really show their will for peace, they should agree to an immediate ceasefire, otherwise both parties (Taliban and Afghan political forces) will lose their popularity among the people and the process itself will be considered as one of the conferences where only talks and statements happen and no action is taken to end the suffering of Afghans.

Review of the week:

Friday, 05 July

An Open Market hit in northern Afghanistan

Local officials in northern Afghanistan say at least fourteen civilians were killed and nearly forty others injured when a mortar hit a Friday market. The victims include children, who had gathered at the weekly bazaar in Khaja Sabzpush district in Faryab province. Officials say the shell was fired by Taliban militants, who attacked several security posts. A gun battle between the insurgents and Afghan forces followed.

 

Thursday, 04 July

Doha Talks Continued
The seventh round of negotiations between the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban negotiating team was still underway in Doha, Qatar. Talks continued late into the night the day before. On Thursday they discussed “details of withdrawal and trust building measure between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” correspondents said.

Reactions to the peace process

  • The US secretary of state says the USA is committed to bringing peace to Afghanistan. The US ambassador in Kabul says next week’s intra-Afghan talks in Qatar are very important. Some people who will attend the talks say Afghanistan’s achievements have to be preserved in any peace deal.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow wants an end to the current war in Afghanistan. He has also stressed the need for comprehensive peace negotiations among all warring sides in the country.
  • The US ambassador to Kabul has said Afghan nationals should properly use the current opportunities for peace restoration in Afghanistan. He has added that there have been many heroes in battlefield for the past four decades but a few heroes have been seen in the field of peace.

Qatar Intra-Afghan Talks Preparation

Some participants of Germany-Qatar joint Intra-Afghan talks told media that they were finalizing the agenda of talks jointly with the Taliban once the conference commenced. Germany-Qatar joint Intra-Afghan talks scheduled on 7th and 8th of July in Qatar. Attaurahman Salim, deputy head for Afghan High Peace Council said that some peace council members were also taking part in these talks. Omar Zakhilwal, another key member of the Afghan delegation told the BBC that ceasefire and restoration of peace will be the main agenda of their talks with the Taliban but added that the delegation going from Kabul was meeting before departing for Qatar.

  

Wednesday, July 03

Afghan peace talks

It was the fifth day of US-Taliban peace talks in Doha, Qatar. All the leading Afghan media have been discussing the seventh round of US-Taliban talks, underway in Doha at the time, and the planned intra-Afghan talks. The current negotiations between Taliban representatives and US officials have focused on negotiating a timeline of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, private Channel One TV reported. Citing “reliable sources”, the report added that the Taliban negotiators have been insisting on a three to five months’ timeline for the withdrawal. But the two sides have not reached any agreement on the issue yet, the report added. Meanwhile, Tolo News and Ariana News TV channels have reported on the government’s stance on the coming intra-Afghan talks, which would be held on 7-8 July in Doha. German Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Markus Potzel has described the coming event as an “important opportunity” for establishing peace in Afghanistan, Ariana News reported. Though the Afghan Minister for Reconciliation Affairs Abdul Salam Rahimi has praised the efforts by Qatar and Germany, he said that official representatives of the Afghan government would not attend the talks, the TV added. Tolo News reported on US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad’s tweet about the intra-Afghan dialogue.

Several newspapers have also discussed the Afghan peace talks in their today’s editions. “Continuation of violence undermines the legitimacy of such meetings; so far there has been no guarantee that could make one believe that the Taliban would give up violence,” independent Hasht-e Sobh said while referring to the coming intra-Afghan talks. “The Taliban’s strategy is to commit more violence during the war so that they could get more concessions in the peace talks”, private Daily Afghanistan said. It added that the militant group increases its suicide attacks during peace talks and conferences.

Trump’s pull-out remark

Some Afghan newspapers have commented on President Donald Trump’s remarks that the US would continue to have intelligence presence in Afghanistan after possible withdrawal of troops from the country. “Regional countries and Afghan people have similar concerns; as the Taliban want withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, it seems the USA has discussed it also reached some kind of agreement,” private Mandegar daily said while referring to Trump’s remark. Private Maseer newspaper has carried a commentary by Qazi Najibullah Jami headlined “US looking for continuation of the current war”. Referring to Trump’s remark, Jami said that the people of Afghanistan are not in favour of the coalition forces’ presence in their motherland. Private daily Weesa has blamed the USA for the presence of terrorists in the country. Referring to the US president’s interview with Fox News, the paper said it is the Americans who have turned Afghanistan into a laboratory of terrorism.

President Ghani’s provincial visit

President Ashraf Ghani visited the southern Kandahar province and inaugurated a 30 MW solar power plant in the province, media reported. Afghanistan’s Breshna Power Company has said that the US had donated 39m dollars for the plant’s construction. During the visit, the president also inaugurated a road which has been named after the province’s former police chief General Abdul Raziq, who was killed in a Taliban attack in October last year. In addition to inaugurating several projects, the president held meetings with local officials, religious scholars, tribal elders and youths where he listened to their problems.

 

Tuesday, July 02

Doha Talks Follow-up

Peace talks between the US and the Taliban representatives in Doha went on. Both sides told the media that talks were going well and concluded with a ‘concrete result’. The meeting was planned for three days. Taliban sources say that this – seventh – round of talks may end with issuing a joint declaration. Last night, the talks between the US and the Taliban lasted until 23: 00. Yesterday late afternoon the Qatari Foreign Minister also visited the venue where talks held which could mean that both sides might have reached a crucial stage.

 

Planned Intra-Afghan Talks

Sources in the Afghan government say its officials will attend the all-Afghan peace summit, set for July 7-8 in Doha, Qatar. Markus Potzel the German Special Representative for Afghanistan says that Germany and Qatar jointly have sent invitations to the Afghan participants and they would attend only with their personal capacity. According to him, those attending “will participate only in their personal capacity and on an equal footing.” US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is holding the seventh round of direct talks with the Taliban in Doha, in an overnight tweet, welcomed the announced all-Afghan talks. He tweeted that “this dialogue is an essential element of the four-part peace framework & and important step in advancing the #AfghanPeaceProcess.” “I want to thank Germany [and] Qatar for agreeing to host the upcoming July 7-8 intra-Afghan Dialogue Conference. This dialogue is an essential element of the four-part peace framework [and] an important step in advancing the Afghan Peace Process”, Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted on Monday. The Taliban’s spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen also welcomed the announcement. The Taliban have flatly refused to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government, but their spokesperson in Qatar Suhail Shaheen was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying: “we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government.”

Taliban Overrun Qushtipa District of Jowzjan

The Taliban claimed that they overrun Qushtipa district of Jowzjan in northern Afghanistan. In a press release, the group claimed that they killed, wounded and captured over 100 Afghan National Security Forces. The Afghan Ministry of Defence confirmed that heavy fighting in the district has happened, but denies the Taliban claim of capturing the district. The MOD added that fresh troops have arrived in the district.

 

Monday, July 01

Taliban attack in Kabul killed and injured dozens

A mini-bus loaded with explosives targeted a ministry of defense-related organ at the heart of Kabul city not very far from MoD and the Presidential Palace and in the heart of a residential area. It was then followed by a group attack where the assailants managed to break into a military compound in central of Kabul city. The attack killed roughly 40 people — including children — and injured around 100 more. The gunfight between the Taliban militants and the Afghan security forces lasted around eight hours. The Taliban took responsibility for this multifaceted strike. “It was heartbreaking to see children as young as 7 injured by the horrific & inhumane attack by #Taliban, even as their leaders sat down to discuss #peace outside of the country,” Afghanistan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib tweeted.

 Third-Day of the US and Taliban Talks in Doha

The third day was termed as “crucial” day of talks between the US and the Taliban. Both sides have told the media that talks were going well. Both parties agreed on an Intra-Afghan conference to be held on 7th and 8th July. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator with the Taliban, said that dialogue among Afghans was an essential part of a peace deal. On this day the US President Donald Trump said in an interview that he wants to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, but will leave a strong intelligence presence in the country to counter what he termed the “Harvard of terrorists.”

 

Sunday, 30 June

Attack on IEC employees in Kandahar

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said that their eight employees were killed in the Taliban attack on Maroof District of Kandahar Province. Kandahar officials said that four Humvees full of explosives were detonated on the District’s compound. Hashim Durrani, the provincial head of IEC in Kandahar was quoted by the media as says that eight staff members of the commission, responsible for voters’ registration process in the district have been killed in the attack. Taliban claimed their militants have overrun the district after attacking the district center, including the police headquarter.

 

Second Day of the US and Taliban 7th Round of Talks

The U.S and the Taliban negotiators continued their 7th round of direct peace talks in Doha, capital of Qatar. Nun.Asia online news website has reported based on sources in the meeting that both sides agreed on the definition of Terrorism on the first day, but no other source has confirmed the news.  The Taliban sources showed hope that this round of talks may end with a concrete result.

 International Day against Drug Abuse Marked in Kabul

The Afghan Ministry of Public Health commemorated the International Day against Drug Abuse. The ministry inaugurated an entertaining park for the Afghan addicts near to a 100-bed hospital where drug addicts are treated. Afghanistan has an overall 2.5 million addicts and is still a leading country in drug produce and poppy cultivation. The UN World Drug Report 2019 shows that drug use has been increased worldwide. According to the report, ‘’around 53 million people worldwide had used opioids in the previous year; these estimates are 56 percent higher than previously estimated’’ the report indicates ‘’among those people around 29 million had used opiates such as heroin and opium, these estimates are also 50 percent higher than previously estimated’’.

 

Saturday, June 29

 The US and Taliban Seventh Round of Talks Started  

The U.S and the Taliban negotiators started their 7th round of direct talks in Doha, capital of Qatar today. Both sides seemed optimistic that this round of talks may end with some result. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during his visit to Kabul a week before that he hoped for a peace deal with the Taliban “before September 1st,” ahead of the Afghan presidential election.

Ministry for Peace Affairs formed

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appointed his Chief of Staff Abdul Salam Rahimi as Afghanistan Special Peace Envoy and State Minister for Peace. This is a new department created by the government and is hoped to pave the ground for direct talks between the government and the Taliban. There is already a high peace council working in peace-related affairs but with almost no impact and authority. A source at the high peace council was quoted by the media as saying the ministry for peace affairs may have higher authority and the current council may be downsized as a consultative body for the ministry of peace.

Mir Rahman Rahmani elected as Speaker of the Afghan Parliament

The Afghan lawmakers elected Mir Rahman Rahmani as the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Wolesi Jirga. Rahmani received 136 votes during the last voting session which kicked off this afternoon. His rival Khan Mohammad Wardak received 96 votes in today’s voting session. The lawmakers cast a total of 245 for the two candidates during the final voting session to elect the House Speaker.

 

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