Afghan peace process is finally shifting to a high gear with all parties to the conflict scrambling to come with solutions for a transition to a political dispensation acceptable to all.
The Truth International (TTI) can report that each of the three parties to the conflict – the Taliban, the United States, and the Afghan government – has now floated its own proposal to end the 20-year war and decide a future set-up.
The Taliban, who have rejected calls for a ceasefire up until now, confirm they are holding deliberations for a three-month reduction-in-violence (RIV) plan.
“American have generally described the proposal as good,” Taliban political spokesman Dr Mohammad Naeem told TTI last week, adding discussions were underway to finalize the details of the plan.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has told TTI the Taliban had floated the plan in the wake of claims that the Taliban have not decreased the level of fighting after signing last year’s agreement with the United States for withdrawal of all foreign troops by 1 May 2021.
“The RIV is presently a proposal. There had been questions that the Islamic Emirate has not decreased operations despite the fact that we had practically decreased the level of fighting and we were forced to fight in some areas because the other side had made advances and tried to enter our areas, forcing us to defend our areas,” Mujahid said last week.
“We had floated the proposal to prevent the objections and to put in place a mechanism for reduction in violence,” the Taliban spokesman said, adding the final contours of the plan will emerge only once the other parties to the conflict have had their say.
Asked if the Taliban would launch their spring offensive that marks new fighting season, he said the Taliban usually announced the offensive sometime in the month of April. He claimed the Taliban had not launched the offensive this year because of the Doha Accord. “We wanted to keep the level of operations down and not to launch new operations”.
“The decision about the offensive [depends upon] the political situation”, Mujahid said. “We have to see how the parties concerned respond to our proposals and what mechanisms emerge. The decision whether or not to launch our [spring offensive] will depend on this”.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had also mentioned the three-month’s RIV proposal in his letter he had sent to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani earlier when the U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad also shared a plan for the establishment of an interim set up.
“We have prepared a revised proposal for a 90-day Reduction-in-Violence, which is intended to prevent a Spring Offensive by the Taliban and to coincide with our diplomatic efforts to support a political settlement between the parties,” Blinken said in the letter.
Also last week, another Taliban leader privy to the negotiations with the U.S. told TTI that the Taliban had shared the RIV proposal earlier than Blinken’s letter to “create a conducive atmosphere for the negotiations among Afghans”.
The intra-Afghan negotiations started in September last year to thrash out a political roadmap and a ceasefire. However, the negotiations are deadlocked with the two sides yet to agree on an agenda.
The Afghan government has not yet commented on the Taliban proposal. However, Rahmatullah Andar, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Security Council, said last week that foreigners were safe in Afghanistan since the Doha agreement but Afghans were still being killed as the war was focused on Afghan citizens and security forces.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who held talks with President Ghani in Kabul in March, called for reduction in violence.
“But what I will say is that it’s obvious that the level of violence remains pretty high in the country”, Austin told reporters in Kabul. “We’d really like to see that violence came down. And I think if it does come down, it can begin to set the conditions for, you know, some really fruitful diplomatic work”.
Austin, who paid his first visit to Afghanistan as Secretary of Defense, said he wanted to listen to President Ghani and to “understand what his concerns were, see the landscape through his eyes.”
While the Taliban and the U.S. have announced their proposals to press forward the peace process, the Afghan government is busy finalizing its own proposal.
President Ghani intends to unveil a plan in the upcoming meeting in Turkey in April that proposes early elections but will demand a six-month ceasefire, according to reports.
A former Taliban official who spoke to TTI last week disagreed with the notion of RIV maintaining this approach did not address the concerns of war-weary Afghans.
“I do not understand the logic and interpretation of the ‘RIV’ as it means violence will continue to kill more Afghans from both sides,” said Dr Amin ul Haq, who served as an official during the Taliban rule (1996-2001).
“Will the RIV mean 10 Afghans will die daily instead of 50 today? Will it mean the police will not be killed and the military will be? This is a naïve idea,” he said.
Haq was of the view both sides could reach an agreement in short order given a strong enough motivation.
“The world is weary and could leave the two Afghan sides locked in fighting, which would be catastrophic. If there is no progress in the Qatar negotiations, the process could be suspended, allowing intra-Afghan warfare to continue until one side is weakened enough to accept the conditions of the other, “he argued.
Besides a rise in the casualties suffered by Afghan forces in the Taliban attacks in recent months, the war continues to take a heavy toll on the lives of Afghan civilians in attacks by all sides.
An assessment released last week by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) concurs with a February report by the UN Human Rights Office in recognizing there had been a surge in civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan following the start of peace negotiations in September.
The Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report 2020 documents the appalling level of harm inflicted on civilians and traces the disturbing spike in violence against them to the last quarter of the year.
Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan laments 2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. “Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict”.
In 2020, the UNAMA documented more than 3,000 civilians killed in a single year for the seventh consecutive year, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world for a civilian.
Afghanistan peace negotiations that began between representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar in September failed to alleviate the scale of civilian harm, a key indicator of violence levels. Instead, there was an escalation of violence with disturbing trends and consequences.