Are Taliban Conditions Threatening Istanbul Conference?
The Taliban approach to the Istanbul meeting reflects their mood to show lack of interest. The Taliban want all decisions to be taken in Qatar where they have had their headquarters since 2013 and signed the historic agreement with the US on Feb. 29 last year.
The Taliban conditions for the Istanbul conference on Afghanistan will be a source of embarrassment for the organizers as they were expecting comprehensive discussions on key issues and possibly important decisions about the future set-up in the war-ravaged country and a ceasefire.
The conference was postponed twice in April after the Taliban’s refusal, apparently over their anger at the Biden Administration’s decision to miss the May1st deadline for withdrawal of all troops. The Taliban also insisted that Turkey had not shared details – agenda and purposes – about the meeting.
The United States had suggested the meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan government to be held under the supervision of the United Nations and with the participation of foreign ministers of regional countries.
The Taliban however, have put forward some conditions ahead of the talks, which include that the Istanbul Conference will not take decisions; Taliban’s participation will be at a lower level; and the meeting will not be longer than three days.
The conditions are in fact a response to the proposals that the conference could take decisions or set ground for decisions as the Taliban and the government’s negotiation team have failed to reach any agreement over the past eight month since the intra-Afghan negotiations have started. The negotiations started on Sept. 12, 2020 and have now entered into the 9th month. The slow pace of the Qatar process has worried Afghans and all stakeholders in the wake of rise in violence.
Moreover, Taliban’s condition to only employ a low level participation in the talks, is against the proposals that a senior leader like Siraj Uddin Haqqani or Mullah Yaqoob, both the Taliban deputy chiefs, lead the Taliban delegation. Some countries think the Taliban in Qatar do not have decision-making powers, but the Taliban leaders are adamant that only the Qatar office is mandated to deal with the political process.
The third condition, which demands that the Istanbul conference should not be longer than three days, is also contentious to the US proposal for a 10-day conference, so the Taliban and Afghan government team could hold comprehensive discussions to remove differences and either take some key decisions to push the peace process forward.
Both sides have not reported any substantial progress in the negotiations so far. They met on the second day of Eid and discussed ways to accelerate the process, however, there is no result so far.
Another condition that the conference will not have a specific agenda and objectives of the conference will not be specified, also doesn’t align well with the real objectives of the conference.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier said in a letter to President Asharaf Ghani and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah that the senior-level meeting of the Taliban and the Afghan government team will be convened to finalize a peace agreement.
He said the US had asked the United Nations to convene Foreign Ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the United States to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.
The proposal to hold a conference outside Qatar floated in the wake of slow pace of intra-Afghan negotiations and spike in violence. Sad aspect of the US-NATO war is that now, only Afghans are losing lives. American officials say no foreign soldier has been killed in the Taliban attack since both sides have signed the Doha Agreement for withdrawal of NATO forces.
Despite the Taliban accusations that the US has violated the agreement, they have not resumed attacks on the foreign forces but fighting continued with Afghan forces.
The government forces have also intensified air operations against the Taliban while Taliban have captured a district in southern Helmand province. The Taliban also took control of districts in Maidan-e-Wardak, a province at the edge of capital Kabul, in northern Baghlan and Logar provinces as they continued to mount pressure on the government.
Turkey, Qatar and the United Nations had planned to co-convene the conference in Istanbul, from April 24 to May 4, with the participation of the representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban to “add momentum to the negotiations that started in Doha last September to achieve a just and lasting peace in Afghanistan,” according to a joint statement issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
The conference was earlier scheduled to begin on April 16 and last 10 days, but it was postponed after the Taliban refused to participate.
Turkey has not yet decided new dates for the meeting and it is not clear if the conference will take place due to the Taliban conditions. The Taliban approach to the Istanbul meeting reflects their mood to show lack of interest. The Taliban want all decisions to be taken in Qatar where they have had their headquarters since 2013 and signed the historic agreement with the US on Feb. 29 last year.