GP Insights

GP Insights # 312, 29 March 2020

Afghanistan: The travails of a dialogue between the Taliban and the government
Sukanya Bali

What happened?
On 26 March, the Afghan government announced a team of 21 members, to negotiate with the Taliban over the prisoner swap, according to the peace deal signed last month in Doha, between the US and Taliban. The team headed by Masoom Stanekzai, former chief of the National Directorate of Security will include politicians, former officials, representatives of civil society and five women members. 

On 25 March, an attack over Karte Parwan Gurudwara in Kabul, which was claimed by ISIS on the Aamaq media arm, led to the death of 25 people.  Later that day, Afghanistan National Security Council, said, the Afghan government will meet Taliban members later this month to discuss the release of prisoners. 

On 23 March, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, met Taliban officials in Qatar, after he visited Afghanistan. The failed attempt to bring truce between the rival leaders, President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah announced a $1 billion cut in the US aid to Afghanistan. On 22 March, the Afghan government officials and Taliban leaders had their first “virtual meeting” over prisoners’ release. 

What is the background?
The political discourse in Afghanistan features unrest between the two rival leaders, President Ashraf Ghani, and Abdullah Abdullah, over their claims to the presidency after the elections in September. The difference grew deeper after Ghani was declared the winner in February. The political feud over the prisoner swap between the government and the Taliban led to a delay in the functioning of the US- Taliban deal signed in Doha in February. 

Recently, Mike Pompeo visited Kabul on 23 March to mediate between President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, to work on the comprehensive peace deal. Post his visit; the US announced a cut of $1 billion aid. Pompeo further said, the US will prepare for another cut in 2021 and will also review “all the programs and projects to identify additional reduction and reconsider our pledge to future donor conference for Afghanistan”. 

On 25 March, the attack on 400-year-old Gurudwara in Kabul ended after a six-hour siege and left dozens of people dead. Tariq Arian, Interior Ministry spokesman, said that all the gunmen were killed after several hours-long- operation by the Afghan forces. The Afghan Sikh population, a minority of around 700 people, had been neglected in the country. ISIS claimed the attack; however, government sources claim that the attack was conducted by Haqqani Network, in retaliation to violence against Muslims in India. 

Later the same day, an announcement by National Security Council stated that the two sides would meet face-to-face, to discuss an initial release of prisoners. Taliban spokesman said the meeting would decide on the release of prisoners which is expected to begin by the end of March and 15 Taliban leaders will soon be travelling to Kabul to verify a list of the prisoners before the release. 

Afghan government further announced a team of 21 members to begin talks with the Taliban. The spokesman of Abdullah Abdullah said, ‘he could neither confirm nor deny whether Abdullah supported the team’. Abdullah Abdullah’s approval of the negotiating team is important, considering his influence in the North and the West of the country.  The year began with a lot of worries, chaos and socio-political outbreaks in the region. The spread of the Pandemic across borders, made many refugees return back to Afghanistan from Iran. From March 8 to March 21 more than 115000 returned from Iran according to the International Organization for Migration. Herat province, which shares borders with Iran, has turned as the new hotbed of the virus. The total count of infected has crossed 100 in the country. 

What does it mean?
First, the visit of Mike Pompeo helped in making progress in the US-Taliban deal. Second, the Afghan government included women in the team of 21 members, for the upcoming meet. This indicates steps towards women empowerment in Afghanistan. However, it is unclear how the Taliban will react to the inclusion of women as representative at the negotiation table.

Third, though the US-Taliban deal was signed after the 18 months of negotiations to end America’s longest war, there are no signs of peace and the minorities are likely to remain under fear perpetually as they continue to remain neglected and underrepresented.   Fourth, despite the anti-CAA protests raged in India for the last three months, the citizenship amendment law will help non-Muslims, like persecuted Afghan Sikhs, to flee violence and gain citizenship in India. The attack on the Sikh minority community of Afghanistan might give a positive picture to the Indian government’s narrative on the CAA.    


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