Earlier this month President Ashraf Ghani had said, it was “not a question of if, but when” an agreement would be reached with the Taliban. And US Special Envoy on Afghanistan, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, has said he is “cautiously optimistic” for an end to the conflict. Khalilzad is spearheading efforts to strike a peace deal with the Taliban before Afghanistan’s presidential election slated for April. He has held talks with the Taliban in Qatar earlier this month and visited nearly half a dozen capitals. If his effort fizzles out, then Presidential elections may be put off.
On combat side, foreign occupation forces continue their rampage. NATO announced on November 28 that it was investigating an airstrike in south eastern Afghanistan that might have killed civilians, with unverified reports of women and children among the dead. Taliban have intensified attacks on Afghan forces, inflicting record casualties even as the United States ratchets up efforts to engage Taliban factions in peace talks.
While Afghan leadership was looking for peace in Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan, back home there were two back to back raids raids on occupation forces, two on the US and one on the UK assets. Four Americans soldiers were killed, taking the number to 12 during this year; more than 2,200 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 9/11. Since the start of 2015, when Afghan forces assumed lead in combative operations, 58 Americans have been killed, as compared to 30,000 Afghan police and soldiers.
At least twelve people were killed after a massive blast outside a British security company’s compound in Kabul on November 28; the attack claimed by Taliban was the latest violence to target the Afghan capital. And on November 20, at least 55 people were killed when a bomber blew himself up in the middle of a banquet hall in one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan this year.
The Geneva Conference on Afghanistan, was co-hosted by the Government of Afghanistan and the UN “to renew their partnership and cooperation for Afghanistan’s peace, prosperity and self-reliance”. Meet was attended by delegations from 61 countries and 35 international organizations, and representatives of civil society, the private sector and the media.
The Geneva Conference was a midway review between two pledging conferences: the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan (2016) and the next pledging conference expected to be held in 2020. Geneva conference was crucial in measuring results against the $15.2 billion committed by the international community for Afghanistan in 2016. Afghan government claimed fulfilling 39 percent of its commitments with the international community.
At the midpoint of Afghanistan’s Transformation Decade (2015-2024), participants noted the progress that has been made on Afghanistan’s path to self-reliance, but recognized that serious challenges including insecurity, poverty and corruption persist. To this end, participants reaffirmed their commitment to mutual accountability and delivery of mutually agreed commitments by both government and the international community.
The Afghan government’s delivery of its commitments was envisaged as key to sustained international support. Participants acknowledged progress in many of the reform areas and agreed that much still needs to be done, including: enhancing inclusive economic growth; reducing poverty; creating employment; fighting corruption; empowering women; and, improving governance, rule of law and human rights. It adopted the Geneva Mutual Accountability Framework (GMAF) with measurable reform objectives and commitments for the government and the international community for 2019-2020, aligning the GMAF deliverables with the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF) and it’s National Priority Programmes (NPPs).
Delegates were of the view that there is a new opportunity to seek peace in particular in light of the government’s peace offer in February 2018.
The government’s offer to the Taliban of talks without preconditions has enhanced regional cooperation and bolstered a national, regional, and international consensus, providing a unique opportunity for a negotiated end to the conflict.
Participants emphasized that peace must be underpinned by serious efforts and reform, as well as inclusive economic and social programs. And to end the suffering of civilians and bring about opportunities for growth and prosperity. It was opined that peace must also be based on a broad political consensus involving all segments of society. Conference reconfirmed that Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace processes must be supported by coordinated efforts of regional countries and the international community.
Conference welcomed the holding of the first Afghan-led parliamentary elections, secured by ANDSF in October 2018, and praised the significant number of citizens who voted despite intimidation. It called for effective preparations of presidential elections in 2019 to ensure maximum transparency, credibility, participation, and security.
President Ashraf laid out what he termed a “roadmap” for the talks and listed the principles that he said must form the backbone of any agreement. He announced a 12-person team led by presidential chief of staff Abdul Salam Rahimi for prospective peace talks with the Taliban. The Afghan government, Western diplomats and United Nations officials have in recent weeks raised hopes of finally reaching a deal.
In a message read to the conference from UNSG Antonio Guterres, deputy under-secretary general Rosemary A. DiCarlo said: “We may have a rare opportunity to move to direct peace talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.”
“We must not miss it.” The European Union foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, told the conference that the bloc believes “it is time for concrete talks about peace to begin”. The EU is prepared to act as the “guarantor” of the negotiations, she added.
Notwithstanding the optimism, Afghan peace may stay elusive unless occupation forces offer concrete concessions including firm timeframe for the departure of last foreign soldier and substantial restructuring of Afghan constitution.