NEW DELHI: U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly discussed the formation of a participatory government in Afghanistan during his recent meetings with the Afghan political leaders in Kabul, including President Ashraf Ghani, sources familiar with the Afghan peace process said on Tuesday.
Sources close to former Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the High Council of National Reconciliation (HCNR), said that the U.S. envoy handed them a draft of the participatory government plan and asked them to share their views as soon as possible.
According to the sources, the U.S. envoy told the Afghan politicians that the peace talks in Doha will be sidelined and that a Bonn Conference-style meeting will be held at the international level to discuss the prospect of a participatory government that would include the Taliban.
“A grand international conference that will be similar to the Bonn Conference will be held, in which the Taliban and the republic side will participate at the leadership level. At the same time, the international community, including the United States and the regional countries, will reach a political agreement that will take its legitimacy from the international community. However, the national legitimacy (agreement of the potential conference) would take its authority from the traditional Loya Jirga,” said Shahzada Massoud, a close aide to former president Hamid Karzai.
What would the participatory government look like?
“The participatory government would be similar to the government during Mr. Karzai’s tenure, which would not be effective—but it will be better than the current situation. One of its benefits is that the war will stop, but let us pray that it will be a temporary option so that we think about a new plan for Afghanistan,” said Sayed Eshaq Gailani, a member of the HCNR.
“They should let the Afghans decide about the participatory government—such a govt should be determined according to the will of the Afghan people, not at the demand of the Americans,” said Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander.
The Presidential Palace has not commented so far but President Ashraf Ghani has in the past rejected the prospect of an interim setup in the country. Recently, Ghani said that the Taliban will not see an interim government in Afghanistan while he is alive.
Khalilzad met Abdullah in Kabul on Monday and discussed the review of the Doha agreement, Abdullah’s office said in a statement.
“They discussed peace talks, the review of the Doha peace agreement by the new US administration, the acceleration of the peace process, the second round of talks between Afghans in Doha, reduction in violence, and ways to advance peace talks and achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan,” the statement said.
President Ghani met Khalilzad on Monday morning, the Presidential Palace said, adding that both sides discussed the next steps for the peace process and emphasized the importance of expediting efforts. Khalilzad pledged the U.S. will play an effective role in ensuring peace in Afghanistan, the Palace said.
Khalilzad has resumed his trips to the region in order to restart the Afghan peace process. The U.S. State Department said Khalilzad “will resume discussions on the way ahead with the Islamic Republic and Afghan leaders, Taliban representatives, and regional countries, whose interests are best served by the achievement of a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”
This is Khalilzad’s first trip to Kabul and other regional countries since U.S. President Joe Biden took office.
One Year Of U.S. And Taliban Deal
The deal signed between President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban marked its first anniversary on Sunday, with the Afghan government saying that the accord did not produce the expected results, as violence in the country has increased. But the Taliban says it is a practical step toward achieving peace and stability in the country.
The U.S. and Taliban deal was signed after 18 months of talks between the U.S. negotiating team led by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators in Doha. The United States agreed in the deal to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by May 1 and the Taliban committed to cutting their ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and to not allow terrorist groups to operate on Afghan soil.
“They (the Taliban) have committed to cut their ties with terrorist groups; however, according to information obtained by the government, they have not cut these ties,” said State Minister for Peace Affairs Sayed Saadat Mansoor Naderi.
“There isn’t anything in this agreement to give hope to Afghans. This has made progress in the peace process fragile,” said Rahmatullah Andar, spokesman for the National Security Council.
Based on the agreement, the intra-Afghan talks between negotiators from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban were supposed to begin 10 days after the deal was signed but were delayed due to differences over the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government, something which was later approved by the Loya Jirga, the grand council, convened by President Ghani.
Finally, the Afghan government released over 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the intra-Afghan negotiations began on September 12 at a ceremony in Doha. The two sides continued their discussions for three months but were only able to agree on procedural rules of the negotiations during this period.
Later, both sides began discussions on the agenda of the talks, but these were stopped for two weeks so that both sides could discuss the issues with their leaders.
The first round of talks between the Afghan Republic and the Taliban negotiators continued for three months and was prolonged due to differences over religious basis for the talks, the relation of the U.S.-Taliban deal with the talks and the future government setup.
The second round of talks began early in January amid reports about the intention by the new U.S. administration to review the Doha deal. This led to a 36-day pause in the meetings of the working groups of both sides who were expected to finalize the agenda of the negotiations.
But the Taliban in a statement on the first anniversary of the deal criticized U.S. forces for continuation of the airstrikes. Referring to the review of the deal, the Taliban has said that the peace agreement—signed in Doha—is the practical way toward peace and stability in Afghanistan and that seeking any alternative to the deal will be a failed attempt and will end in failure for the peace efforts.
Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in a voice message on the first anniversary of the deal called it the main tool to bring peace and stability and an Islamic system to the country.
The negotiating teams in Doha have held four meetings over the last week but these discussions have not had any progress. Sources familiar with the process said that progress and speed in the talks are dependent on the announcement of the results of the U.S. review of the Doha agreement.