Doha Agreement & Future of Peace in Afghanistan
July 1, 2020
Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad
The Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) organized a Webinar on the Doha Agreement & Future of Peace in Afghanistanon July 1, 2020. Speakers at the webinar included: Ambassador Riaz Mohammad Khan, former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan; Ambassador Jawed Ludin, former Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan; Dr. HuseyinBagci, Professor International Relations, Middle East Technical University, Ankara and Dr. Marvin Weinbaum, Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies at The Middle East Institute, Washington D.C.
The webinar was moderated by Mr. Najam Rafique, Director Research, ISSI. Welcoming the speakers and the participants, he said that four months after the US and Taliban agreed to a peace deal in Doha, Qatar in February 2020, two of the most critical elements of the deal remain in doldrums – intra-Afghan dialogue and release of prisoners by Kabul and Taliban.With a mercurial consensus among Afghans, progress on the Doha deal remains pessimistic and it remains to be seen what is in store for peace in Afghanistan and whether the Taliban will resist the temptation to overrun Kabul once again once the international troops have departed?
In her presentation on the topic, Ms. Amina Khan, Director Centre of Middle East & Africa (CMEA), ISSI talked about the ongoing developments in the peace process, the hurdles as well as positive developments, including the commencement of intra –Afghan talks. She emphasized that critical aspects essential for peace that were overlooked in the US-Taliban deal would need to be addressed in the upcoming intra-Afghan talks, such as; agreeing on a timeline for a responsible and measured withdrawal, securing a credible and sustained ceasefire, focusing on national and social healing as well as pushing for a future political set up that is acceptable to all. While discussing the way forward she said all the ingredients necessary for a peace deal are in place and thus present an opportunity to Kabul as well as the Taliban to accommodate each other and take a chance on peace.
In a perspective from Pakistan, Ambassador Riaz Mohammad Khan said that the Taliban were a significant part of the political landscape of Afghanistan and without them there cannot be peace. Despite various challenges, one can say there are certain positive signs. One of these is that notwithstanding apprehensions, so far, there has been no collapse in talks from either the Taliban or the Government in Kabul. Hence, the two sides should have a degree of confidence and continue to engage with each other. He noted that there was a fatigue on part of all the parties involved and that the rule of thumb should be that the Afghan parties would do better if they proceed with certain recognition of the ground realities. He said that Kabul must not allow Afghan territory to be used against Pakistan. Pakistan has an advantage of geography and an advantage of demographic overlap which cannot be offset by any other factor.
During his remarks, Ambassador Ludin stated that within Afghanistan, the conditions are far from peaceful. Talking about the peace agreement, he emphasized on the complications involved, citing that peace is a very complex process which requires mindfulness of all intricacies, risks and spoilers. Most important of all is the release of prisoners, an issue which must be handled in a responsible manner. Speaking on the role of Pakistan, he said that the contribution of Islamabad has been crucial. He went on to say that peace will require consensus and some sort of unity not only at the regional level but also the global level.
Dr. HuseyinBagci said that the Turkish public is very much interested in peace in Afghanistan since it is key for regional stability. The question is how far is the United States willing to pursue the peace process. Moreover, what will a change in US administration mean for the peace process? He pointed out that Chinese and Russian interest in Afghanistan will mean a continued US attention towards Afghanistan. He noted that if the Taliban and Afghan regime can contribute towards economic development of Afghanistan, then the country has a bright future.
Dr. Weinbaum pointed out that at the start of the process when the US signed the agreement, it was essentially an exit strategy. He said that it comes down to an impossible situation in the bargaining process because as previously seen, parties have struggled on the simplest matters of the process, which were very negotiable. He went on to discuss how American leverage in Afghanistan is declining and it will be pretty much gone soon. He voiced apprehensions on the cohesion of the Afghan security forces.
The speakers agreed that while there is now unity of government in Kabul, the main question would be of reintegration rather than reconciliation. There can be no ‘grand bargain’. A regional consensus is also essential. The future of peace in Afghanistan will also be dependent on the change in US after the elections along with the military support. It was stressed that the dialogue among the Afghans will be a protracted process where issue would need to be handled in a practical manner.
In his concluding remarks, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman BOG,ISSI, said that prospects for peace in Afghanistan are very near. However, one has to be cognizant of the challenges and obstacles at hand. For instance, there is still a fear of the civil war breaking out again. The primary responsibility for peace rests on Afghan shoulders and it is important that they arrive at some modus operandi which will involve power sharing to ensure a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
The webinar included an interactive session in which scholars from various countries actively participated.