Lieut General (retd) Malik who commanded 11th Corps of Pakistan Army commonly known as Peshawar Corps and served as defence secretary from 2012 to 2014 in a telephonic interview with this correspondent has informed that Taliban have accepted the American demand of partial withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Though there is some deadlock on the power sharing formula between the Afghan stakeholders. But according to my understanding the whole peace process will be finalised by the end of this year or in early 2020. The peace deal is likely to be signed in January or February next year which will be a great boost for US President Trump who will kick-start his Presidential election campaign later in the year 2020”, informed the retired general.
From October 2018 up till now total seven meetings or peace conference between Taliban and Trump Administration led by U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad have been held. Both the sides have made a lot of progress during this period. On July 09, Taliban delegation held a very brief meeting with the American team negotiating with them. Both the sides have announced a break so that they could discuss the outcome with their leadership. fter leaving Doha, the American team headed to China where they held a meeting with the delegates from, Russia, China and Pakistan. For Pakistan this is one of the positive development as Pakistan has been formally engaged by the big three i.e. United States, Russia and China in this process. Pakistan considers it a huge success as India has been excluded from the Afghan Peace dialogue process.
The Trump Administration is focusing on two major issues during the Afghan Peace process —ceasefire and Intra-Afghan dialogue. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to the United States will revolve around these two points. The U.S Administration wants Pakistan to play its role by using its influence in reaching this peace accord. Question arises whether Pakistan can play its role to bring all the Afghan stakeholders including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, former President Hamid Karzai, Abdul Rashid Dostam Group, Hizb-e-Islami group, Taliban and other warlords at the dialogue table for Intra-Afghan Dialogue. How would Pakistan convince them because every group have their own objectives and targets? Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants the Afghan Presidential Elections in September whereas Taliban, Hamid Karzai and other groups wants that elections should be held once the peace accord is signed so that every group should have equal representation in the caretaker set-up which will look after the transition? This correspondent held detailed discussion with experts who are well versed with Afghanistan and Taliban Affairs. They were asked whether Taliban have agreed on partial withdrawal of U.S. Forces and what is the update on remaining three points of the Afghan Peace Process i.e. , 1-Timeframe of withdrawal, 2- Inter-Afghan dialogue and 3-Ceasefire.
According to one of the expert Taliban spokesperson is hopeful that peace accord is likely to finalize in a month or even before Eid-ul Adha. However two other experts believe that things are not as simple as they seem to be. Afghan society is very different and even majority of Taliban Shoora is very conservative who are still insisting on imposing Sharia in Afghanistan after the U.S Forces are withdrawn. This will not be acceptable to other Afghan stakeholders.These experts have different views on the whole dialogue process. Some are very optimistic and believe peace accord between the Afghan Taliban and rest of the stakeholders will be achieved. Whereas some experts believe it would be a miracle if the Trump Administration and Taliban reached an agreement on all the issues.
Taliban agreed for partial withdrawal of U.S. Forces?
Renowned journalist Saleem Safi agrees with the retired general and thinks the Taliban have agreed on American presence in Afghanistan but they have linked it with one condition. According to him, Taliban too understand that 100 percent withdrawal of American forces is impossible therefore they understand the US Administration position and accepted this condition.
Sami Yousafzai— senior journalist and expert on Afghan on Afghan Affairs says Trump Administration wants to leave Afghanistan with a proper legacy and planning. Even some U.S. institutions do not want to leave Afghanistan but they have to follow the Trump policy. The Trump Administration initially had offered for withdrawing the U.S. Forces in five years whereas Taliban’s demanded that they should leave Afghanistan in three months. After several rounds of negotiations Trump Administration has offered to complete the withdrawal process in two years whereas Taliban offered nine months for this purpose.
Senior journalist and expert on Afghan Affairs Tahir Khan who attended the recent Afghan Peace Conference held in July in Doha says he has spoken with Taliban spokesperson Sohail Shaheen a couple of days ago and he was hopeful that soon they will reach an agreement. Tahir Khan says nothing is finalised yet as the agreement has not even been written yet and these are all speculations. Though a lot of progress has been made but the accord will be signed when all the stakeholders reached an agreement.
Progress on Timeframe of US Forces withdrawal
Salim Safi believes the first two points are almost finalized. The US Administration initially asked for five years for its forces’ withdrawal whereas Taliban asked them to withdraw their forces in three months. However, after the rounds of negotiations American have given two years’ time frame for withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan whereas Taliban in the latest dialogue held in Doha have agreed on nine months period for pulling out the American forces. This will be decided in the coming round of dialogue between Taliban and Trump Administration.
Tahir Khan says it is true that both the sides have made progress on the timeframe of American Forces withdrawal. However, it is hard to confirm what would be the final timeframe as the dialogue is still in progress.
Journalist Sami Yousafzai also confirmed that both the sides have made progress on this point as Taliban have now offered nine months’ timeframe for withdrawing the US Forces whereas the Trump Administration has demanded two years for pulling out the American Forces from Afghanistan.
Will Taliban agree to ceasefire?
“This is difficult for Taliban to convince their fighters who are participating in fight against US Forces and its allies in the name of Jihad. Question is if Taliban fighters hold ceasefire what else would they do. There are thousands of Taliban fighters who are participating in this fight. Unless they are given jobs to keep them busy it would be hard for Taliban to hold ceasefire,” says Salim Safi.
Journalist Tahir Khan says, as per his information and understanding the Taliban will hold ceasefire after the Trump Administration announces the timeframe of US Forces withdrawal. The Taliban will not agree on ceasefire unless there is a clear cut announcement from the Trump Administration about the date of withdrawal.
“As per my understanding Taliban will not hold ceasefire because it will be very hard for the Taliban Shoora to convince their fighters to stop the fight. Taliban fighters have a religious conviction that they are doing Jihad against the invading forces. The Taliban fighters cannot sit idle, unless they are given jobs”, commented Sami Yousafzai.
Taliban share in Post American withdrawal
Senior journalist Salim Safi believes Taliban want maximum share in the post-American withdrawal set up in Afghanistan. Taliban now have increased their influence even in Pashtoon areas. However, the rest of the stakeholders including President Ashraf Ghani, Dostum, Jamiat e Islami, Hamid Karzai group and other big warlords will also be demanding lions share. This is difficult to say that what would be Taliban’s share in the Pot American era in Afghanistan.
Tahir Khan believes the Taliban want to impose Shariah in Afghanistan after the U.S. Forces withdrawal. However, the remaining stakeholders will oppose this. Similarly, it is difficult to assess that what would be Taliban’s share in the post American era in Afghanistan. As per his information initially the Taliban had demanded 70 percent share in the government but again this was not confirmed.
Sami Yousafzai says as per his information if any interim set up is made, it would be for two years. Taliban might get hold of 15 provinces where they could appoint their Governors and Deputy Governors. However, the Taliban will have to guarantee that there will be no terrorism activity in these areas. Similarly, they might be given 50 percent share in the Central government. This formula was initially circulated however, what would be the final deal it is yet to be ascertained.
Taliban’s ties with Iran
Sami Yousafzai believe Helmand Shoora (Taliban Shoora headed by Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada) is getting close to Iran and Trump Administration too realizes this. This is one of the aspects which has annoyed Trump Administration and even Zalmay Khalilzad expressed his concerns on this issue recently.
Tahir Khan however, thinks Taliban leadership recently held secret meeting with Iran but it doesn’t mean they are getting close to Iran. The reason of this meeting is that the Taliban want to keep close ties with every country. Iran had expressed its concerns on the Afghan Peace Process that Taliban might not be used against Iran. However, the Taliban have assured Iran that they will not do so and this was the reason of their meeting with Iranian leadership.
Afghan Presidential Elections
Safi believes Ashraf Ghani wants the Presidential elections on its schedule time so that he should have maximum leverage at the time of Intra-Afghan Dialogue process. However, the remaining stakeholders want not to hold the elections until the Afghan Peace Process is finalised and peace accord is signed.
According to Sami Yousafzai, it is true President Ashraf Ghani wants that the Presidential Elections should be held in September. However, keeping in view the law and order situation and the ongoing Afghan Peace Process it seems difficult to hold the elections. But if the Trump Administration failed to reach an accord with the Taliban till September 1 then the US Administration too will want to hold the Presidential Elections in time.
Tahir Khan thinks the first priority for the Trump Administration is peace in Afghanistan. The administration would want that they should reach the peace accord by the time of its September 1 deadline. According to his information things were positive and both the sides could announce the peace accord within a month. If both sides reach an agreement, there might not be the Presidential Elections.
President Trump’s Special Adviser to Afghanistan who has only one task to ensure this peace accord, had categorically told the reporters during the recent Afghan Peace Process Conference held on July 8-9 in Doha that the United States’ first priority is ensuring peace in Afghanistan. He told the reporters that if the peace deal is not signed till September 1 then the Afghan Presidential elections would be held in time.