[Islamabad] The Taliban has categorically rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s new peace proposal and said the Doha agreement the US and the Islamist movement signed in February 2020 is the “best plan” for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
His idea comes on the heels of a new proposed US peace plan that would see Ghani step aside for an interim period during negotiations over a new constitution for the country.
Dr. Muhammad Naeem, a Doha-based Taliban political spokesperson, told The Media Line in an exclusive interview that “after the tireless efforts of international and regional stakeholders and with the full support of the United Nations, the Doha peace agreement was drafted, and accepted by the international community as well.”
“If the Doha peace agreement is implemented in its full provisions, the Afghan nation will soon enjoy long-lasting peace and stability,” he said, adding: “Unfortunately, if other parties do not keep their promises as per the accord, then they will be held responsible for any dire consequences.”
Naeem added that, on March 31, a high-level Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the head of the movement’s Doha office, met with Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation.
“Both parties discussed and emphasized their commitment to abide by the Doha accord,” Naeem said.
Under the Doha agreement signed by the Trump administration and the Taliban, the US committed to removing its remaining troops as well as all US-led international forces, while the Taliban committed to cutting ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
Ghani has drawn up his new proposal for peace with the Taliban ahead of an international conference aimed at jump-starting faltering talks between the warring sides.
The Afghan president intends to present his three-stage plan at a yet-to-be-scheduled UN-backed conference in Turkey to be attended by the US, Pakistan and Russia, as well as other key regional countries.
The plan’s phases, according to media reports, are: “making peace,” or holding talks with the Taliban; “building peace,” with the language hinting at a transitional government for Afghanistan; and “sustaining peace,” referring to the post-transitional government situation.
US policymakers now believe that, if they had sponsored political parties instead of warlords and militia groups, the situation of the country today would be much better and it would be very easy for the US to safely exit as well
Meanwhile, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the head of Afghanistan’s main opposition party Hezb-e-Islami, a former jihadi leader and a former prime minister, led a huge anti-Ghani rally in Kabul.
“Ghani’s desire to cling to power has endangered Afghanistan’s peace process, and Ashraf Ghani will no longer be allowed to do so,” Hekmatyar told the crowd on Friday.
He called on Ghani to immediately resign in the greater interest of the country.
“The protest rally aims to pass on a strong message to all parties to consider a change in the current political system ahead of the UN-led conference on Afghanistan in Turkey,” Hekmatyar said.
Hassan Jan, a Kabul-based former Afghan diplomat, told The Media Line that the large size of the Hekmatyar-led rally was a “surprise” for many local analysts.
After the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, “almost all political parties splintered into small ethnic groups and thus a political vacuum was created,” Jan said. “Hezb e-Islami is trying to fill this vacuum. The turnout of thousands at the rally shows that the Afghan people are indeed fed up and they need stability and peace in the country,” he added.
“The Hekmatyar-led Hezb e-Islami has been very smart in how it has carried out its political activism in recent years. It is a fact that, unlike other political parties, Hezb e-Islami is not based on a traditional Afghan ethnic group, but rather Tajiks, Uzbeks and even the Shia Muslim community are part of it,” along with its Pashtun base, Jan said.
“US policymakers now believe that, if they had sponsored political parties instead of warlords and militia groups, the situation of the country today would be much better and it would be very easy for the US to safely exit as well,” he also said.
Meanwhile, to increase pressure on the Afghan government, Taliban fighters have intensified their violence against the security forces.
According to the Kabul police spokesperson, “at least three security personnel were killed and 12 others were critically injured on Sunday evening when an explosive-laden car was detonated near a security forces convoy in the Panja-Chinar area of Kabul Province.”
However, the Taliban claimed in its official statement that 45 security officials were killed in the blast.
It is the first time in five months that the Taliban has claimed responsibility for such a deadly attack.
Moreover, four policemen reportedly were killed when fighters stormed a security checkpoint in Nangarhar Province on Monday night. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
However, ever since the start of intra-Afghan dialogue, the Taliban stopped committing violent acts in urban areas of the country.
Adeeb Z. Safvi, a Karachi-based leading regional security analyst, is a retired Pakistan Navy captain. He told The Media Line: “It has been widely observed that intriguing US officials have fabricated a blame game narrative of noncompliance with the accord by the Taliban, but it is on the record that the Taliban have not violated a single commitment which was inked in Doha.”
He added that looking at current matters “from the true perspective, the accord is an ‘instrument of surrender’ that the US signed, and some top US policymakers, including the Pentagon, also believe this.”
Ghani’s proposal, which calls for a cease-fire and elections without a US troop withdrawal − something the Taliban will never accept − is destined to fail
In response to a question from The Media Line about a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of American forces, Safvi said: “The US will not leave Afghanistan at all, and the reasons are different from the one being cited by Ashraf Ghani, the US administration and even President Joe Biden.”
Safvi briefly noted that “the United States is closely monitoring the multibillion-dollar pact between its arch-rival Iran and China. Meanwhile, Iran has indicated its intention to join CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [with infrastructure projects] valued at $62 billion.”
“China is also extending its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiatives to the Central Asian countries. So due to these strategic circumstances, the US will never leave a vacuum in the region,” he added.
“The Doha peace agreement is a game-changer for the entire region and, in the present scenario, the US cannot and will not give a walkover to China in this region,” Safvi said.
“Meanwhile, Ashraf Ghani does not want the US to leave Afghanistan, as he knows the Taliban would take over Kabul shortly after a US withdrawal,” he added.
Last month, Khalilzad shared yet another new peace plan with Ghani and senior Afghan officials.
The US plan called on the Ghani regime to step aside for an interim period, until a new constitution is agreed upon and an election held. Meanwhile, a joint commission would monitor the administration and other affairs. The US plan also suggested that “under the interim administration the parliament could either be expanded to include Taliban members or suspended until after the election.”
However, Ghani refused to resign and rejected the US formula.
Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington, told The Media Line that “Ghani’s proposal is significant because it marks a rejection of the Biden administration’s new proposal.”
“The US had stated in very clear terms that it expected Ghani to play ball with its plan, which calls for an unelected interim government that Ghani has long rejected,” he said. “Ghani’s proposal, which calls for a cease-fire and elections without a US troop withdrawal − something the Taliban will never accept − is destined to fail,” he added.
“It’s also a fresh challenge to US-Afghanistan relations, as it now appears that Washington and Kabul are on a collision course with competing peace plans,” Kugelman said. “The Taliban can look on happily and recognize that no matter how this all shakes out, it will have an upper hand, because it knows it is performing well on the battlefield, and it knows US troops will leave Afghanistan soon enough.”
Ghani’s plan is also a rejection of the US proposal, and fundamentally different from anything that the Taliban, other Afghan political leaders, or even most regional states would ever accept
Andrew Watkins, a Brussels-based senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, told The Media Line that “President Ghani’s three-stage peace plan includes several concessions and compromises to Ghani’s previously stated positions.”
“Ghani’s plan is also a rejection of the US proposal, and fundamentally different from anything that the Taliban, other Afghan political leaders, or even most regional states would ever accept,” he said. “It is doubtful his plan will gain any traction at a Turkey conference, or among the international/Afghan parties involved,” Watkins added.
Azeem Khalid Qureshi, an Islamabad-based international relations expert, told The Media Line that “Ashraf Ghani’s three-step − making, building and sustaining − proposal ahead of Turkey talks is a good omen, only because it exhibits willingness to accommodate the Taliban in the peace-building process.”
He added that a fast-approaching deadline of May 1 for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces “doesn’t seem viable, thus inviting the Taliban’s eventual violent reaction and reducing the chances of early peace in a war-torn country. And so, a responsible withdrawal of foreign forces is inevitable to avoid reoccurrence of civil war in Afghanistan.”