Kabul: Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), in an address to Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Turkey on Friday called on the Taliban to engage in talks, reiterating that there is a “real opportunity” for peace in the country that should be utilized.
“There is a real opportunity for peace, and it is our collective obligation to make the most of it,” Abdullah said. “The Afghan crisis has no military solution; hence I urge the Taliban to engage in good faith in talks and negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as soon as possible and help bring an end to the violence,” he said.
Abdullah said that the world spent 20 years in Afghanistan, not only to contain terrorism, but also to prevent it from becoming a breeding ground for re-emergence of terror. “We are thankful for that generous and costly global endeavor. We are now at a point where we not only need to end our internal conflict through political means, but we still need to be vigilant and assure resilience as well as containment as part of a paradigm shift that can assure peace and an acceptable and inclusive end-state for the people of Afghanistan,” he said.
Abdullah also expressed fears that the Taliban will have no interest in a political settlement with the US-supported administration in Kabul after the scheduled departure of American and NATO forces. He said there were signs that the Taliban were seeking military advances ahead of the September 11 troop withdrawal.
He warned however that, if so, the extremist movement was making a “big miscalculation.” Abdullah also said Afghanistan’s neighbors must refrain from interfering and instead seek cooperation with Kabul for the country’s long-term stability.
“(Withdrawal) will have an impact on the negotiation with the Taliban,” Abdullah said. “(They) may find themselves further emboldened and they may think — some of them at least — that with the withdrawal, they can take advantage of the situation militarily.”
He added however that “it will be a big miscalculation … should they think that they can win militarily. There are no winners through the continuation of the war.” Abdullah said there are signs that the Taliban are trying to take over provincial districts in a bid to take “advantage of that situation.” “But it’s something that defies the lessons of history,” he said.
Asked about possible interference from neighbors after US and NATO troops have left, Abdullah said regional countries have declared that they have an interest in a stable Afghanistan and that they should “put those words into deeds.” “There were some countries which had concerns about the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan, including the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said. “Now, NATO troops are not going to be there.”
This comes as violence has intensified following the start of the withdrawal of US and coalition forces from Afghanistan. A parliamentary committee on Thursday reported fighting on 200 fronts across the country in just a day. Moreover, at least 30 districts have fallen to the Taliban in the last two months.
The call for peace comes even as a senior Afghan delegation is likely to visit Doha next week to meet with the Taliban and Qatar officials. The seven-member delegation includes Abdullah; former President Hamid Karzai; former high peace council chief, Mohammad Karim Khalili; Babur Farahmand, deputy to HNCR, Mohammad Yunus Qanooni, State Minister for Peace, Sayed Sadat Mansoor Naderi and Advisor to President, Mohammad Akram Ekhpulwak. There has not been an official announcement about the agenda of the visit. Point to remember is that Zalmay Khalilzad, the special envoy to United States for the Afghanistan peace process is currently in Doha.
However, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman said in a statement on Friday that Qatar has not yet made tangible progress with Afghan peace talks being held in its capital Doha. “Our goal is to reach a ceasefire between the Afghan government and Taliban and consensus on the future of the country,” Rahman said.
In fact, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also urged Afghanistan leaders to expedite progress in intra-Afghan negotiations for lasting peace. He was talking to Abdullah, during a meeting held on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum (ADF) in Turkey.
Recalling the successful visit of Abdullah Abdullah in September 2020, the foreign minister reaffirmed Pakistan’s policy of maintaining broad engagement with Afghan political leadership to forge deeper mutual understanding. He highlighted Pakistan’s meaningful contribution to facilitate direct talks between the US and Afghan Taliban as well as the Afghan parties. The foreign minister reiterated that it was now up to the Afghan leaders to seize the historic opportunity for an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive settlement.
He added that the progress in the Afghan peace process was critical to reduce space for spoilers who did not wish to see return of peace to the region. The foreign minister underscored that negative statements and blame game only served to vitiate the environment and strengthen the hand of spoilers who wished to derail the peace process.
Qureshi also said that the US should systematically withdraw from Afghanistan to prevent what had happened in the 1990s in the country. “If [US] withdrawal is not systematic, we are concerned that Afghanistan may get sucked into a situation that we experienced in the 1990s, when there was anarchy, civil war, instability,” said Qureshi. He added that the withdrawal should be carried out in a “responsible way.”
“Afghans have paid the biggest price. The second to the Afghans are Pakistanis. We lost 83,000 lives on account of terrorism. Our economy has suffered close to over $128 billion,” he said. Noting that Pakistan hosts nearly 3 million Afghan refugees for four decades, he said they do not want another influx of refugees.
“We think it’s time that they go back home with honor and dignity. And that can only happen if there’s peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he said. Underlining that Pakistan facilitated the peace process between the Taliban and the US at the Doha Peace Agreement, he said, “As far as peace of Afghanistan is concerned, my point is, and my contention is that this is a shared responsibility. Pakistan is already in its role, but it’s basically the conciliation within Afghanistan.”
On the other hand though, as per sources who spoke to VOA, donations to the Taliban are on the upswing in Pakistan border regions as the militant group intensifies attacks against Afghan forces ahead of the US troop withdrawal.
Multiple sources and eyewitnesses on the ground with knowledge of these donations have confirmed to VOA that fundraising for the Taliban has continued in various parts of Pakistan even as peace talks are underway. A member of the Baluchistan assembly, who also requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, told VOA that members of the Taliban openly hold fundraising campaigns in several districts of the province.
“It is not a secret,” he said. “It is going on in Quetta, Kuchlak Bypass, Pashtun Abad, Ishaq Abad, Farooqia Town.” The lawmaker added that he suspects Taliban supporters used the money to fund the insurgents’ recent fight against the US-backed government in Afghanistan.
In fact, the United Nations is planning for a possible increase in violence in Afghanistan when US troops withdraw after two decades, the global body’s refugee chief said. Filippo Grandi told AFP in an interview that he understood that international military operations like the one in Afghanistan “cannot be sustained forever”.
But, he warned, “the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and other troops as well is another indicator that violence may rise after that”, he said. “We are making plans for it.”
The Taliban have made huge gains across Afghanistan as the United States prepares to pull out the last of its troops from the country by September after 20 years of war – even as peace talks between the Afghan government and the Islamist group have stalled.
Many Afghans – especially women, who have been largely shut out of peace talks between the insurgents and Kabul – have long feared a return to the Taliban’s repressive Islamist regime if the US withdraws. The situation is already dire, with some 2.6 million Afghans living abroad as refugees at the end of 2020, according to latest UN figures.
Meanwhile, in a statement by the Office of the Spokesperson and Directorate General of Communications – MoFA regarding the statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, it stated, “Given the sensitivity of the situation and the opportunities arisen to achieve a permanent peace in Afghanistan and the region, comments and statements that spoil this trend are not favorable to the Afghan Peace Process. The Afghan government and the international community call on Pakistani government officials to utilize their influence and control over the Taliban to bring them back to the negotiating table for meaningful talks to end the war and bloodshed in Afghanistan, thus ensuring peace in Afghanistan would help eliminate global terrorism threat benefiting Pakistan and the international community.”
“Unrealistic and untrue statements will obstruct strengthening relations between the two countries. Afghanistan is determined to discuss important and key issues with Pakistan through diplomatic channels,” the statement added.