Powerful Leaders, Rivals, Women Activists Sit Down For Intra-Afghan Peace Dialogue

Last week, Islamabad staged a similar dialogue (‘Lahore Process’) in the Murree Hills’ Bhurban– the Taliban and dozens of Afghan leaders including former prime minister Gulbuddin Hikmatyar participated.

PKONWEB — Senior Afghan political leaders, including several government representatives and women activists, opened a two-day intra-Afghan peace meet in Doha on Sunday, the first time members of the Taliban will sit face-to-face with representatives from President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the civil society.

The conference is part of regional efforts to end years of violence that continued this week with a devastating bomb attack in Kabul that killed at least eight Afghan security force members and four civilians.

Last week, Islamabad staged a similar dialogue (‘Lahore Process’) in the Murree Hills’ Bhurban– the Taliban and dozens of Afghan leaders including former prime minister Gulbuddin Hikmatyar participated.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Arab News the intra-Afghan conference in Qatari capital did not constitute “formal negotiations” and participants would not represent the Kabul government but speak in their personal capacity: “Every participant will share views as to how peace could return to Afghanistan,” he said.

However, Shaheen added that the Taliban would represent their political office and explain their official stance on the peace process.

Representatives from the Taliban and the United States also started a seventh round of peace talks last week, aiming to hammer out a timeframe for the withdrawal of foreign troops in exchange for guarantees from the Taliban insurgency that they will not use Afghan soil to launch attacks against the United States. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hopes for peace deal before September 1, as he made his first visit to Kabul since Washington launched peace talks last year.

US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American diplomat, on Saturday said in a tweet that for the first time he can report “substantive” progress on all four issues key to a peace agreement in the country’s 17-year war, calling the latest round of talks with the Taliban the “most productive” so far.

Zalmay has been tasked by the US government to secure a political settlement with the Taliban, which now controls more Afghan territory than at any time since being toppled in 2001 by US-led forces.

The US and Taliban will resume talks on July 9 after Sunday’s dialogue, the Taliban and Khalilzad have said. In the past, the Taliban have repeatedly refused to meet President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they call a puppet regime.

A total of 71 delegates are participating in Sunday’s peace meeting, including a 17-member Taliban delegation.

The Doha conference was earlier scheduled to be held in April but Qatar postponed it after differences emerged over who would participate in the dialogue.

Qatar and Germany are jointly hosting today’s conference, which some participants say is the continuation of intra-Afghan meetings that began in Moscow in February this year.

The Taliban spokesperson told media that “Discussions will be held on Afghans’ basic rights, human rights and Islamic rights in the intra-Afghan negotiations and no one should have concerns.” 

He added that during the Moscow conference, the Taliban had said that they will “ensure women rights … in line with Islamic injunctions that include right to work, education, if they want to begin their own business or inherit…”

A larger number of women are participating in the Doha conference than in previous meetings, with several women participants meeting Khalilzad on Saturday after the Taliban and Afghan delegates met informally at a dinner hosted by the organizers at a local hotel.

Afghan delegates are hopeful that the conference will pave the way for formal and direct peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

“This is our hope that the conference in Doha will lead to the beginning of a formal intra-Afghan dialogue,” Omar Zakhilwal, a former Afghan minister told the press on Sunday ahead of the conference in Doha.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Donald Trump are to meet on or about July 21 in the US capital. Afghanistan peace and regional issues will dominate their talks, observers say.