Kabul: Two back-to-back international meetings are being convened in Qatar this week to press Afghanistan’s warring parties to resme upeace negotiations and reach a deal before the Afghan conflict spirals out of control.
The diplomatic effort comes amid dramatic battlefield advances by Taliban insurgents even as the United States continues airstrikes in support of embattled Afghan government forces. It also follows last week’s warning by the United Nations that “the war in Afghanistan has entered a new, deadlier, and more destructive phase.”
The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his counterparts from Russia, China and Pakistan, will meet in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Wednesday under what is officially known as the “extended troika,” diplomatic sources told VOA. The Moscow-initiated group conducts regular consultations on ways to support intra-Afghan negotiations to help the parties reach a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.
The extended troika will hold consultations before meeting Doha-based Taliban and Kabul government representatives who are engaged in slow-moving intra-Afghan peace negotiations there, VOA learned from reliable sources at the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. The extended troika will be preceded by a meeting on Tuesday of Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors. Russia, the United Nations and United States have also been invited to Tuesday’s meeting.
The goal of both discussions will be “to seek a possible common ground” between the two Afghan adversaries “at a time when (the Taliban) have started occupying provincial capitals,” the Foreign Ministry sources said. Pakistan’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Muhammad Sadiq, and the country’s ambassador to Kabul, Mansoor Khan, will be visiting Doha to attend the Afghan peace-related meetings there, the sources added. Sources in the High Council for National Reconciliation also said that Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the council, and Sayed Saadat Mansour Naderi, the state Minister for peace, are scheduled to attend the two important meetings on peace in Afghanistan this evening in Doha, Qatar.
Meanwhile, while assuring India that Qatar is working toward an inclusive peace process in Afghanistan, the visiting Qatari counter-terrorism and conflict resolution special envoy, Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani also expressed concerns about “external players,” as much as those based in Afghanistan, that could come in the way of achieving that goal.
The two-day visit by Al-Qahtani was important as it came, as official sources said, in the middle of a major effort to secure an interim arrangement in Kabul that is agreeable to all stakeholders. Al-Qahtani backed India’s position that an inclusive process, which ensured protection for women, children and minorities was important for a lasting political settlement in Afghanistan.
However, while the peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban have continued intermittently in Doha, prospects for a negotiated power-sharing deal look increasingly bleak. Taliban insurgents have continued to indulge in wanton violence despite their claim that they “strenuously’’ favor a political settlement.
While Al-Qahtani didn’t clearly, or directly, mention Pakistan in his interaction with Indian authorities, he brought up regional and global conflicts with potential to affect the situation in Afghanistan. While maintaining that it won’t recognize any group that takes Afghanistan by force, Qatar has continued to facilitate the peace talks as it sees the Taliban, as Al-Qahtani was himself quoted as saying recently, a key component of any political solution.
Al-Qahtani had acknowledged India’s contribution to Afghanistan economically and said India wanted a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. India has committed humanitarian and development assistance worth over $ 3 billion to Afghanistan. It has undertaken more than 500 infrastructure and development projects since 2001.
On the other hand, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday met with Jean Arnault, Special Representative of the UN secretary general for Afghanistan, who led a delegation to Tehran to exchange views with Iranian Foreign Ministry officials about the intensifying war between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
In the meeting, Zarif referred to the serious situation in Afghanistan and the increasing complexity of disorder in the country. He mentioned the wrong policies of foreign powers as one of the important factors in the current situation in Afghanistan.
Announcing Iran’s readiness to assist and facilitate talks between the Afghan parties in order to advance the peace process in Afghanistan, the foreign minister said that the conflict in Central Asian country can be resolved only through talks between Afghans themselves.
He added, “The global community must adopt a political solution to the crisis in Afghanistan and condemn the violence and its aftermath.” For his part, the special envoy stressed the importance of the role of Iran and other countries in the region in contributing to the Afghan peace process. Arnault added that no country can solely solve the current disorder in Afghanistan.
“Only collective cooperation can reduce the severity of the situation in Afghanistan,” the special envoy insisted. Arnault also stressed the importance of inter-Afghan talks as the only way to overcome the rapidly spreading conflict in Afghanistan and considered his talks in Tehran useful and important.
In his press conference on August 1, Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said that the situation in Afghanistan is serious. “For the Islamic Republic of Iran, security of the Afghan people has always been a top priority. We have declared to all parties and groups in Afghanistan that they must consider the protection of the Afghan people in all their actions and talks,” he noted. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has facilitated the first round of talks between the Afghan parties in Tehran and is ready to facilitate the second round.” He reiterated Iran’s position that there is no military solution to the Afghanistan crisis.
Also, Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian, the special representative of the Iranian Foreign Ministry for Afghanistan, met with Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar in Kabul on July 27, discussing the latest developments surrounding Afghanistan, details of which were released on Monday. Taherian assured the Afghan foreign minister of Tehran’s support for the peace process in Afghanistan while maintaining the achievements the Afghans have made over the past two decades.
Iran’s special envoy also called for further cooperation between Kabul and Tehran in various areas, including border cooperation and coordination between different sectors. According to the Afghan Foreign Ministry, Atmar said he appreciates the reasonable stances of Iran in supporting peace efforts, ending violence, putting an end to arbitrary killings and torture of civilians, and human rights violations in the territories captured by the Taliban.
Atmar also warned a domination of the Taliban and the escalation of violence by the group will lead to a spread of extremism and the presence of international terrorist groups in Afghanistan and regional countries. Taherian also had a phone conversation with Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar. In the phone call, the two sides conferred on the latest developments on Afghanistan. The two sides also discussed the significance of ongoing Afghan peace processes, especially the continuation of intra-Afghan talks in Tehran.
In the meanwhile, head of Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) Abdullah Abdullah appreciated the principled positions of the Islamic Republic of Iran for supporting and facilitating the peace process in Afghanistan. In a phone conversation on Sunday, Taherian and Abdullah discussed the latest developments in Afghanistan, peace process and intra-Afghan talks in line with attaining the lasting peace in this country. Abdullah Abdullah, for his part, thanked the principled positions of the Islamic Republic of Iran for supporting and facilitating the peace process in Afghanistan and emphasized the importance of Iran’s continued support for Afghanistan.
On the other hand, in talks with Taliban forces, a commander of Iranian border guards in Sistan and Balouchestan province announced that Iran will not hand over Afghan refugees to the Taliban. While the Taliban demanded the extradition of refugee citizens to Iran. This video released on social media shows the Iranian commander’s talks with Taliban forces at the Iran-Afghanistan joint border. Road Transport Deputy of Sistan and Baluchestan province said that ‘Milak’ Border Terminal was shut down due to the insecurity in Afghanistan.