An intra-Afghan dialogue conference was hosted by the governments of Germany and Qatar in Qatari capital city of Doha on 7-8 July 2019. Though the official invitation to the participants was jointly extended by Special Representative of Germany for Afghanistan and Pakistan and Special Envoy of Qatar for Counterterrorism and Mediation of Conflict on behalf of their governments, they were, however, represented by independent non-governmental bodies as the main organizers of the event. The two organizations namely Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CCHS) in Doha and Berghof Foundation in Berlin, funded by their respective Governments, provided technical assistance to the congregation. This dialogue is apparently one of the results of the seventh round of US-Taliban talks that started on 29 June 2019.
As the Taliban has been emphasizing, the participants to this conference were invited in their personal capacities, rather than any official institution mainly due to the Taliban’s insistence on non-engagement with the Afghan Government. Analysts believe that Taliban are compelled to avoid the Afghan Government due to their stance of last 18 years. For years, the Taliban have portrayed the Afghan government as illegitimate and an imposed administration established by international forces. They have been mobilizing fighters by labeling the Afghan government as a supporter and marionette of foreign invaders. Hence, they are afraid that engaging directly with the Afghan government without any convincing reasons for their commanders and fighters may result in skepticism about the legitimacy of their two-decade-long war qualifying it only as a power struggle instead of an ideological conflict. The Taliban leadership are scared of disunity and dissent that may emerge within the ranks and files of the Taliban, especially those actively engaged in combat. Some analysts believe that signs of such a dissent are already evident between political and military layers of the Taliban.
The phrase “personal capacity” was, though, mostly referred to those traveling from Kabul. The Taliban, in the meantime, in all previous such meetings including the recently conducted Moscow conference, as well as the under discussion conference participated as representatives of the Taliban Movement. This double standard attitude, hence, has been cause of concern among those expecting a peace where the state system remains intact. The continuous undermining of the state, therefore, can be identified a significant downside of the ongoing peace process.
By in large, the Doha intra-Afghan dialogue conference can be considered as a positive step toward initiating meaningful negotiations among Afghans but whether that will lead to peace in the near future is hard to imagine at this point. At the moment, assessment of the way the things are moving, can help in drawing of two scenarios. The first scenario, a built on a more positive intent is that the declaration of the joint statement is a positive step, because it has put forth a roadmap for peace. Although an in-depth analysis reveals that apart from some issues such as, agreeing to continuation of such dialogues in the future, reducing the levels of civilian casualties, refraining from attacking civilian and public places and emphasizing on some basic rights, the joint resolution is largely focusing on broader terms on which Afghans generally would have an agreement. In other words, it fails to even touch upon sensitive issues. Yet, at this critical juncture in the Afghan peace process, one could hope that a positive vibe was getting generated.
It is important to highlight that merely publishing such a resolution is not an achievement in itself, because it is not the first of its kind. Almost all other intra-Afghan dialogues, albeit informal, resulted in the issuance of such joint statements. The only difference here might be the fact that this happens at a time when the Taliban and the US are already engaged in direct talks and that has, in actuality, increased prospects for peace.
The second scenario dictates that this dialogue was merely a formality and it will be unwise to tie any hopes to this first round. As indicated by the head of the Taliban Doha office too, the resolution is non-binding and none of the sides is legally bound to implement its provisions, while it also, as mentioned earlier, doesn’t attend to pressing issues that could be considered as a token of hope for Afghans. Ceasefire, for example, as the first and foremost desire of Afghans that could immediately stop bloodshed and suffering of the people of Afghanistan is not agreed upon. Another important issue that is very much crucial for the success of the peace process is direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which also remains non-starter as far as Taliban are concerned.
In totality, unless there is negotiation between the Afghan Government and Taliban, very little hopes should be attached to the current peace process. Talks with individuals or reaching agreements with personalities rather than a state system is of no use, as the involvement of institutions guarantee the successful implementation of peace agreements. Historically, Afghans have experienced lack of representation in peace negotiations such as Geneva process during 80s where the Mujahideen groups were not part of the process which turned out to be a failed formula, at least for Afghans. Also, sequencing is the critical part of any successful peace process and badly sequenced peace process are bound to fail. Though the resolution talks about Taliban-US negotiations, it fails to unequivocally predict direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. US and Taliban agreement may include all these issues, but will not be dubbed as intra-Afghan dialogue and the implementation may encounter several challenges. Hence, without Afghan-Taliban dialogue the whole process will be incomplete.
By look of the things, one can say that all parties have made significant amount of progress toward a political settlement over the course of last ten months. Yet; direct talks are eventually going to happen where official representatives from both sides (Afghan government and the Taliban) will participate, but looking to the international experience and the complexities in the Afghan context, it is not clear how will they start? And how long will it take? Unless this sine qua non is revealed, it will be difficult to predict on how and when of the Afghan peace process. Consequently, without agreeing on practical steps and relevant details, it is very much difficult to predict the future and to see peace happening in Afghanistan in the short term.
The writer (twitter: @zeeraky12) is Deputy Director of Afghanistan Affairs Unit (AAU). He has been involved in peace efforts in Afghanistan since 2010. He writes about peace, security and politics of Afghanistan both in English and local languages, Pashto/Dari