Ghani: ‘I don’t want shaky deal with Taliban’

Special Ghani: ‘I don’t want  shaky deal with Taliban’
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani hopes the meeting of politicians will show unity. (AFP/File)
Updated 29 April 2019

Ghani: ‘I don’t want shaky deal with Taliban’

Ghani: ‘I don’t want  shaky deal with Taliban’
  • President opens assembly to define national framework for talks with insurgents

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Monday that he would not accept a “shaky” peace deal with the Taliban, as he opened a major assembly to define a national framework for talks with the insurgents.

Nearly half of the key members in Ghani’s National Unity Government (NUG) — in which he shares power with chief executive, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah — had boycotted the gathering (known as the Loya Jirga), following in the footsteps of Abdullah, former President Hamid Karzai, head of the government-appointed High Peace Council, Karim Khalili, and other prominent politicians.

Those refusing to take part in the event, accused Ghani of using the platform as a campaigning tool to get re-elected in September, while others said he was undermining peace talks between the Taliban and US officials, held in recent months in Doha, where his government had been totally secluded due to Taliban objections.

Inaugurating the assembly, Ghani — whose term of office, on the basis of the constitution, ends in May and who said last week that he will remain in office until polls are held — rejected the accusations.

He told the 3,200 delegates, which included 900 women, to lay the framework for peace with the Taliban during four days of discussions being held under tight security. The government has announced a one-week holiday and restricted movement of traffic and people living near the site of the assembly meeting, as part of the heightened security measures.

“You will be defining the limits and the framework of this peace process with the Taliban … I am not after a shaky peace … I want a stable peace. I am not after a hasty and temporary peace deal,” Ghani said.

Before Ghani’s speech, delegates were shown a short video on a giant screen, depicting mostly casualties of Taliban attacks and the destruction of two huge Buddha statues by the group while it was still in power. Some attendees were turned to tears by footage which showed militants mistreating people, and the film also focused on government reconstruction works in the country.

As Ghani was delivering his speech, one male delegate tried to disrupt him. The man was barred from speaking and forced to leave the venue by security forces.

Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail, a key supporter of Ghani and prominent organizer of the assembly, told reporters that the boycott by government figures and other politicians would have “no impact on the legitimacy of the gathering.”

Jirga is part of an ancient practice in Afghanistan and is mostly summoned during key national events, such as when picking a head of state or going to war. The delegates will be divided into groups to discuss the peace framework, and a final resolution based on the outcome of their deliberations will be issued on the last day.

While pro-Ghani officials in the NUG insist that the gathering, costing the nation at least $5 million to stage, is necessary to gather the thoughts of the country, some observers and former allies of the president say it is a waste of resources.

“Such loose gatherings of hand-picked delegates have often been called by Afghan rulers to rubber-stamp their agenda,” said Ali Ahmad Jalali, a US-based Afghan technocrat and former minister.

The Taliban, who had turned down an Afghan government invitation to the gathering, urged locals to stay away too. 

“Do not participate in the enemy’s conspiracy under the name of jirga, instead find ways to further sideline the shaky administration of Kabul,” the group said in a statement.

Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst who has taken part in a number of unofficial talks between the Taliban and non-state Afghan actors, told Arab News that the “jirga will have no impact on the Taliban’s stance for opening direct talks with Kabul.”

Wahidullah Ghazikhail, who runs a think-tank, told Arab News that Ghani had called the assembly meeting to “overshadow” the peace efforts of US special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has held a series of talks with the Taliban in the past few months.

Ghani has always maintained that he wants the peace process to be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.

The opening of the assembly comes weeks after Ghani canceled a planned meeting of Afghans with the Taliban in Doha, at which some members of his government were set to also participate to share their views about how to end the war, rather than state officials beginning direct talks with the Taliban.

Khalilzad, who is on a tour in Kabul, lamented the cancelation of the meeting and said he hoped it would be revived soon.

The Afghan-born diplomat, whose last round of talks with the Taliban concentrated on US troops in Afghanistan, said Washington was seeking intra-Afghan dialogue that would lead to a political settlement to the conflict and eventual military pullout.

“We are seeking peace and political settlement, not a withdrawal, we want a peace which will provide ground for withdrawal,” Khalilzad told the private Afghan Tolo News.

He warned that a possible deal with the Taliban might not mean a total end to violence in the country because of the threat posed by Daesh.