KABUL (Pajhwok): Both contradictory and common issues have been included in the agenda for peace talks between the government and Taliban negotiating teams while experts say ceasefire, future political system, the constitution and international treaties could be critical topics.
It is worth mentioning that the Afghan government and Taliban negotiating teams have agreed on the Procedural Rules for talks after 80 days of discussions and have also shared their respective items for the agenda for future talks with each other. The two sides have taken a three-week break from the talks and are expected to resume their talks in Doha on January 5.
The Afghan government negotiating team’s agenda for the talks is comprised of 28 items divided in five parts —- Security, Politics, Development, Educational Mechanism and Peace Agreement, while the Taliban agenda for talks has 24 items some of which are circulating in the media, but both the sides have not officially spoken in this regard.
Afghan government negotiating team member Senator Attaullah Lodin told the Mesharano Jirga, without going into details, that the Islamic Republic’s agenda was comprised of five parts while the Taliban had presented a 24-item agenda including six major points.
Ceasefire first on government agenda, last on Taliban agenda
When to accept ceasefire will be a contentious topic because the Afghan government has placed ceasefire as one of the first points of the agenda to be discussed while the Taliban have placed it at the bottom of their agenda.
Political affairs expert Dr. Hameed Azizi, while referring to ceasefire as a top priority for the Afghan government and giving it not enough importance by the Taliban, said: “Fighting is Taliban’s major pressure tool. The Taliban enjoy an upper hand in the conflict.”
He said if the Taliban stopped fighting, they would be left with nothing to put pressure on the Afghan government. “Finally the Afghan government will insist on its stance. The Taliban will either have to surrender or return to fight again. In such circumstances, if the Taliban return to the battleground in a post-peace Afghanistan, the government will have better opportunity to blame the Taliban for violating the peace agreement and ceasefire and the Taliban will be then perceived as a rebellion in the Islamic world.”
According to Azizi, the Taliban would never want to lose the tool with that they could put pressure on the opposition. “Therefore, ceasefire plunges to the bottom of Taliban agenda.”
Nazir Ahmad Sahaar, head of the Kobaha Dialogue Centre, said the Taliban were not interested in ceasefire because of an uncertain future following withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and a desired result they had been wishing. “Additionally, this process has no international guarantee.”
He said ceasefire was vital for the government but it was also the demand of the Afghan people. He said the government was also testing Taliban’s will if they had the intension for long-term truce.
Sahaar said the government knew the Taliban would not agree to a long-term truce, adding that some analysis had developed suggesting the Taliban ranks would dismantle soon after the announcement of ceasefire.
Political affairs expert Ahmad Saeedi said: “The Afghan negotiating side has been stressing over ceasefire because the government has no achievement, if ceasefire doesn’t happen what will be the achievement of the government team in the past three months. The Taliban have better achievements, they got freed 5,500 prisoners and gained international recognition during the period.”
According to Saeedi, the Taliban have placed ceasefire at the bottom of their agenda because the group wants to get more privileges before a truce.
But another political affairs expert Nazar Mohammad Motmaeen believed that the Taliban believed that ceasefire was important when there is tangible progress in peace talks, an agreement is reached on the future political system and confident between the two sided is developed so that way for the ceasefire is paved.
Political affairs expert Nasratullah Haqpal said: “The Taliban have nothing except fighting and ceasefire is the demand of the government and the people. If the Taliban agree on ceasefire, they will lose their aggression and power.”
He added: “The Afghan government knows fighting is the only tool the Taliban have against the Afghan government and international community. If ceasefire happens, the Afghan government will not be forced to accept Taliban demands.”
Security is another vivid agenda item
The Taliban have mentioned security as the 19th point on their agenda with title: “The transfer and treatment of injured persons.”
While the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan team under its security topic on the agenda has written: “Security of all main and small roads, prevention of any kind of extortion, prevention of illegal movement with neighbouring countries, disarmament of regions, fighting, organized crimes, security of Islamic and historic sites, protection of natural reservoirs and prevention of their illegal mining, protection of public property, Da Afghanistan Breshna Shirkat, a halt to self-proclaimed punishment violations, a halt to targeting individuals on the basis of ethnicity.”
Dr. Azizi said Taliban’s agenda was based on real facts while the government in its agenda tried to put psychological pressure on the Taliban.
Referring to psychological pressure on the Taliban, he said: “The items the government team has mentioned under the ‘Security topic” mean to say the Taliban are robbers, extortionists, criminals and a dangerous group who kill people on ethnicity basis, attack public property and commit other crimes,” he said.
According to Sahaar, the Taliban have included ‘the transfer of injured’ issue in talks because majority of hospitals were under Taliban’s control but most of their patients were treated outside the country.
He said inclusion of this topic in peace talks showed that fighting would continue during peace talks as well.
He added the Taliban did not include some items such as protection of roads, halt to cross border movement because the Taliban have a strong presence in rural areas and some Taliban live in Pakistan and they need movement across the Durand Line.
According to Motmain, although the Taliban have agreement with the US on the transfer of injured but the group wants to re-negotiate this topic with the Afghan side.
Haqpal said the Taliban talked about the overall security while the government side had mentioned some security issues including stopping passenger vehicles and taking away passengers by Taliban militants.
The form and structure of future system
The Afghan negotiating team has not explicitly explained a future political system of the country in its agenda item ‘roadmap for political partnership” but the Taliban want to discuss “type of the future Islamic system, leadership and Islamic Council.”
According to Hameed Azizi, the Afghan government is not interested in changes to the current system and wants to enforce it on the Taliban. The acceptance of the current system with some changes would ensure President Ashraf Ghani stay in power.
Referring to Taliban stance on future system, he said the Taliban had been fighting against the current system for years and accepting the system would lead to disintegration of Taliban who would become weak in future.
The Taliban see the existing system as flawed and weak and want changes to the political system in future.
But Saeedi said the Taliban were against the Islamic Republic and were interested in any other system and on the other side the Afghan government insisted on the Republic system and believed the existing system would continue.
Sahaar believed the Taliban had mentioned Islamic system in their agenda because there was no chance to be opposed but its nature and structure could be debated. He added the term “Political Partnership” from the Afghan side was meant elections and other discussions related to the Republic system.
He said Islamic System and the Shared Political Roadmap were two complicated issues and would be the most critical topics of discussions in the upcoming peace talks.
According to Nasratullah Haqpal, the structure of political system is a fundamental issue for the Taliban and in general for peace talks.
“Ghani and other individuals in the current system have often vowed to protect the current system at any cost, therefore they did not mention this issue, but the Taliban are against the existing system and do not see their future in this system therefore they demand change of the system and often refer to this issue,” he added.
Foreign Forces and Fighters
The Taliban have said nothing about the presence of foreign forces in their agenda items, but the Afghan side mentions it as: “Fighting foreign terrorists to stop the killing of Muslim people of Afghanistan.”
Dr. Hameedi Azizi said: “Both the Taliban and Afghan government have support of others. The government enjoys foreign military support from US and NATO and the Taliban from different Islamic groups.”
But Motmaenm, while referring to foreign forces and fighters, said: “This topic was much deliberated upon during the talks between the Taliban and the US and the definition of terrorist and foreign forces. But they reached an agreement that barring diplomats, all military personnel, including contractors, shall leave Afghanistan.”
He said under the agreement the Taliban will force foreign militants of Al Qaeda, Chechnya and other groups to leave Afghanistan and will have an international obligation in this regard. He added since the Taliban were involved with foreigners in these issues therefore they did not refer to this point in intra-Afghan talks.
Nazir Ahmad Sahaar also believed the Taliban had reached agreement with the US on both withdrawal of foreign forces and foreign fighters from Afghanistan.
He added the Taliban might not take strict measure against foreign militants until a ceasefire was reached because any action against foreign militants before ceasefire could hamper Taliban relationship with them.
Protection of Constitution and past achievements
Another point included in the Afghan negotiating team agenda is the ‘Protection of the people of Afghanistan achievements’ while the Taliban did not refer to this but have termed the Constitution as debatable and the Afghan team did not talk about constitutional discussion.
Dr. Azizi said: “Individuals trained and brought up in western values and spirit have been in the top ranks of the government and protecting achievements of the people of Afghanistan ensures their stay in power and they don’t want to return to a society based on religious values because an Islamic system will give them nothing rather to be dubbed as bad people. These individuals have created the second most corrupt system and in an Islamic system the punishment of these people is cutting their hands.”
He said on the other hand the Taliban fought for years of an Islamic government and any negligence from the Taliban in this regard could damage their importance and struggle therefore the Taliban considered Islamic system in their agenda.
Nazar Mohammad Motmaen regarding the Afghan Constitution said: “Majority of Afghan politicians want the existing constitution while the Taliban want a new constitution and stress the constitution is debatable.”
But Haqpal in this regard said: “Afghan government has some achievements in the past 19 years in areas of women rights, freedom of expression and others as a democratic system. The Taliban talk about Islamic principles to be included in the constitution.”
He said amending the constitution has direct impact on the system and it was why the Taliban termed the constitution debatable but their movement would be questioned if they agreed with the existing system.
Relatively shared items
The Afghanistan Islamic Republic team has mentioned other items such as relations with other countries, education, rehabilitation of war victims, families of martyrs and injured, protection of citizens’ rights and freedom, eradication of corruption in society, provision of good governance, prevention of poppy cultivation, process and smuggling.
The Taliban in their agenda have also included similar items such as foreign policy, training and education, basic public rights, sponsorship of widows and orphans, women rights in the light of Islamic principles and national traditions, special attention to disabled, freedom of expression in line with Islamic principles, eradication of administrative corruption, poppy cultivation and process.
The Afghan government team has talked about strengthening of Afghan defence and security forces while the Taliban also referred to the defence and security in their agenda.
According to Hameed Azizi, the above items are contradictory and in fact, both sides have talked about important features of a system and government. Difference in words and sentences may not lead to a huge contradiction while the things which could lead to differences are human public rights and freedom of speech in line with Islamic principles.
The Afghan government definition of citizen freedom and rights may be close to secularism while Taliban’s definition of the same is fundamentally Islamic. Fears about Taliban’s previous hardline government may favor the current government but on the opposite moral corruption and other weakness in the system may favor the Taliban.
Nazir Ahmad Sahaar also said there was general agreement on the above topics but the topics were still debated in parts. For example, he said, both sides agreed on progress in education, but there was difference of opinion on the school curriculum.
He said the Taliban wanted freedom of expression and women rights to be based on Islamic principles, but the government mentioned the topic as citizens’ rights.
In line with definition of the Afghan government, the national army, intelligence and police are security forces but the Taliban in their ‘Defence and Security Sector’ have mentioned their fighters as well.
Haqpal, however, said these were the items linked with human values as public security was part of a system Islamic or any other system.
He added the fight against corruption, training and education and other topics were shared human values and might not be strongly debated during talks.
Other contradictory items in agendas
The government sides has included quality services such as health services, agriculture, infrastructure projects, law and order, creating jobs, protection of public properties, efforts for Afghanistan’s self-economic reliance, international guarantees for implementation of peace agreement, strengthening state institutions, protection of international agreements and compliance with these agreements as other items in its agenda list while the Taliban have not clearly talked about these items.
On the other hand, the Taliban agenda calls for developing policies in line with Islamic principles and national values keeping in mind global standards, Afghanistan independence and territorial integrity, Afghanistan’s unity and national unity, commitment to national interest and values, giving prisoners all legal and religious rights and prevention of unpleasant propaganda while the government team has not mentioned them in their agenda.
Azizi, while referring to this difference, said: “I think both sides will reach an agreement on these topics at the end. The Taliban first prefer the Islamic system in their agenda and then focus on development, security and foreign relations and executive structure of future political system while the Afghan government being part of the system wants to initiate discussion on the structure of the system. The Afghan team is trying to mention executive matters as well. Differences on future political system are based on the ideologies of both sides.”
Main contradictory items in peace process
According to Saeedi, ceasefire, the structure of future system, constitution and international agreements are the most critical topics of peace process, adding that more serious and contradictory items also existed as the Taliban did not want Ghani and elections.
“The Taliban favor Aqad Council, they don’t accept Parliament and they don’t recoganise the existing Islamic Republic and democratic system.”
He said if ceasefire was agreed and the current system was changed, the existing politics and all matters would be changed but if the Constitution was changed, it would decide the current and future systems and would provide legitimacy to government and would make the way forward clear.
Haqpal said if international treaties were accepted, fundamental issues could be resolved and small issues would solve themselves. He added links with foreign nations were kept through a system and government.
According to Sahaar, the two sides have different views, definitions and perceptions about the structure of system, constitution and international treaties and other topics.
Azizi also termed ceasefire and its timing as the most critical issue while future political system and constitution are relatively core issues of contradiction between the two sides.
“Taliban do not demand complete overhaul of the system, they will accept the existing system with 30 to 40 percent changes, and the important thing is that the Taliban have no replacement for the existing system.”
He, however, said international agreements are not a hot issue for both sides, adding if the Afghan government has international treaties, the Taliban also have an agreement with the US, and therefore international agreements will not be a huge threat for the peace talks.