ISLAMABAD: The head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, told Arab News that Pakistan has "promised" to help convince the Afghan Taliban to agree to a cease-fire. Abdullah spoke to Arab News on Wednesday before leaving Pakistan after a three-day visit to Islamabad.
The cease-fire has been a major sticking point in the ongoing negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban as they aim to end decades of war. Taliban offensives have continued even since Afghan and Taliban negotiators began meeting in Doha on Sept. 12, hoping to agree to a cease-fire and power-sharing deal.
Pakistan is considered a key force in pushing the Taliban to negotiate, and both Kabul and Washington are now urging the South Asian nation to use its influence over the insurgent group to agree to more concessions.
Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been marred by hostility, with both sides trading accusations that the other is a safe haven for cross-border militant activities.
Abdullah told Arab News that the civil and military leaders he met in Pakistan had agreed that the key to peace in Afghanistan was the Taliban agreeing to a “reduction in violence, leading to a cease-fire.”
“In our own discussions with all authorities, I found nobody having any doubt about that need,” he said, referring to his meetings with the Pakistani prime minister, army chief, foreign minister and other leaders. “They promised that they will also try their own way ... to use their positive influence in that regard.”
At the talks in Doha, both sides agreed on the majority of suggestions about how the dialogue should be conducted, including committing to continue negotiations even if fighting escalates.
But they remain deadlocked over the process for negotiations, in part due to the Taliban’s insistence that the basis of the dialogue be the Doha Agreement, signed in February between the Taliban and the United States after talks that the insurgents refused to allow the Kabul government to be a part of.
That deal promises a phased withdrawal of American troops in exchange for guarantees that the Taliban will reduce its attacks and no longer permit Afghanistan to serve as a haven for militant groups.
“Why make (the Doha Agreement) such an issue that we remain stuck in it?” Abdullah asked. “Our team has been advised and instructed to be flexible. If the Taliban do not get more serious and do not show flexibility, that will automatically affect the attitude of our team as well, and then we might reach another impasse.” Abdullah added that it is a “major concern” that the international community could lose focus on the peace process if the stalemate with the Taliban is not resolved quickly.
The two sides also disagree over which school of Islamic thought should be used to resolve disputes in post-war Afghanistan. While both mainly believe they should adhere to the Hanafi school — one of the four major Sunni schools of jurisprudence that is the foundation of the current Afghan constitution — they have been unable to agree on a formula that does not alienate minority sects, particularly Shias.
“Do we use the diverse nature of our nation — different ethnicities, different languages, regions, socio-economic circumstances — as a tool to fight forever over ruling, or a means to find a way to add to the beauty of the country and to make it an energy for the country to flourish, and look towards the future rather than getting stuck in the past?” Abdullah asked.
He said the government team was open to the idea of engaging a mediator or a facilitator to break the current impasse, if the Taliban agreed.
“If (a facilitator) is needed at some stage, we should move quickly without wasting time,” he said, adding that both sides could decide together who that facilitator should be.
Earlier this year, the peace process was threatened by another impasse — between Abdullah and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Abdullah disputed the results of an election last September and announced the formation of a parallel government, undermining Ghani’s administration at a time when the US was trying to advance the peace process with the Taliban.
In May, Abdullah and Ghani finally signed a power-sharing deal to end their political stalemate.
When asked if he and Ghani were now on the same page on the ongoing negotiations with the Taliban, Abdullah said: “Find me two sisters or two brothers who are one hundred percent on the same page on all issues. But when it comes to peace, yes. The goal is peace, dignified durable peace, acceptable for the people of Afghanistan, without losing the gains of the past, which are the rights of the people, the values that we believe in, the liberties, freedom of speech, women’s rights, the right to vote and all of that. On those principles we think the same way.”
When asked if he wished to be president in a future post-war government in Afghanistan, Abdullah said: “My focus is not on my own role, to be honest … The ultimate goal for me will be achieving peace for a nation which deserves it, which has suffered more than its share for the past 42 years. That’s my ultimate goal.”