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Events of Afghanistan Peace Talks in Moscow

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    Posted: 05-Feb-2019 at 4:55pm
First day of Afghanistan Peace Talks in Moscow

Taliban officials and senior Afghan political leaders met in Moscow on Tuesday for peace talks, despite objections from Afghanistan's government, which criticized the meeting as undermining its legitimacy.

Events of Afghanistan Peace Talks in Moscow First day

The two-day gathering was the second time Moscow has hosted high-level talks on Afghanistan attended by the Taliban in recent months. It comes a week after negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban in which both sides agreed to a draft framework for a deal which could open a path to peace talks, raising hopes that an end to the 18-year war could be closer.

Tuesday's talks were attended by around 70 political and social leaders from Afghanistan, among them former president Hamid Karzai, who said they hoped it could build trust and lay a foundation for a future political settlement that might help end the war.

But the meeting also underlined the anxieties and political uncertainties raised by any possible U.S. pull out from Afghanistan.

Members of Afghanistan's U.S-backed government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, refused to attend the talks on the grounds that it will only engage in direct talks with the Taliban, and not alongside other Afghan political actors. In an interview Tuesday with TOLO News, an Afghan media outlet, Ghani said the Afghan politicians taking part had "no executive authority" and were not representing Afghanistan. Ghani's chief advisor, Fazel Fazly, tweeted that the meeting was "regrettable" and accused the politicians attending of "bypassing principles because they were out of power."

At the talks, Hamid Karzai and organizers said they were not seeking to isolate the Afghan government. Emerging after a day of speeches and standing alongside the heads of the Taliban delegation, Karzai said he wished the Afghan government had been present.

"We understand the government of Kabul needs to be part of these negotiations. We wished that they would have been here today," Karzai said, adding that he and the others had come as "as citizens of Afghanistan" in the hope of facilitating talks between the government and the Taliban.

The head of the Taliban delegation, Sher Mohammed Abas Stanekzai, said the talks had been "very good," calling them a "first step" towards peace.

"This is the first step that we are taking towards peace, and God willing in the future we will have more meetings and we can go farther," he said.

The delegations on Tuesday met in the President Hotel, a Soviet-era complex owned by the Kremlin. After short introductory meetings, the delegates moved into a conference hall, sitting around a large circular table. The session opened with a member of the Taliban singing verses from the Quran, before leading all the delegates in a prayer.

Afterwards, Taliban officials told reporters that the delegates had been in agreement on the need to work on replacing Afghanistan's constitution, and that any future government would be called an "Islamic government."

The Taliban's 10-man delegation was from their diplomatic office in Qatar's capital, Doha, which has also been handling the group's negotiations with the U.S., also led by Stanekzai.

Last week, U.S. and Taliban negotiators agreed in principle to the framework of a deal under which the Taliban would pledge to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base by terrorist groups, and the U.S. would pull its troops out of the country. Chief negotiator for the U.S., Zalmay Khalilzad, has said any agreement would also require the Taliban to undertake a cease-fire and to open direct negotiations with the Afghan government.

Although many obstacles to an agreement remain, Ghani's government is concerned it could find itself side-lined by a deal that would see American forces abruptly leave Afghanistan, a possibility that has also seemed to grow amid President Donald Trump's recent push to bring the troops home. The prospect that the Taliban could return to power has also raised concerns in particular about the fate of women should they do so.

In the TOLO News interview, Ghani though downplayed he was concerned by the U.S. talks, saying that all talks were set with his government and that any Taliban peace deal would have to be endorsed by the whole country.

In a speech, Stanekzai said the Taliban was now not seeking exclusive political power in Afghanistan and promised that the group would protect the "Islamic rights" of women, including to work, education, property rights and to choose their own husband. He also attacked though Western television series which he said had paved the way to "immoral crimes" and had been imposed on Afghanistan.

The Taliban was "committed to eliminate all those evil customs and traditions that violate women rights and do not comply with Islamic principles," Stanekzai said.

Fawzia Koofi, a member of the Afghan Parliament said she had sought assurances from the Taliban at the meeting that they would not seek to reimpose their ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam which saw women deprived of basic rights.

"Afghanistan has come a very long way and the Taliban should realize that, it's not the Afghanistan of 2001 or 1995, which made women stay at home. If the Taliban would like to be a part of Afghan society, they need to adapt," Koofi told the Associated Press. Koofi said she believed the Taliban had "changed to some extent" and said its delegates had promised to respect women's rights to work and education, and could even envisage a female prime minister. But she said some U.S. troops must remain as a guarantee those rights are observed.

The peace talks' location in Moscow also underlined Russia's renewed involvement in Afghan affairs, three decades after the Soviet Union withdrew its troops from a disastrous war there. In November of last year, Russia's foreign ministry hosted multinational peace talks in the same hotel as Tuesday's conference. The Afghan government didn't formally take part in that event either, but a delegation of Afghan politicians acting on its behalf did, along with Taliban officials.

Russia's role this time though was opaque. Russian officials have said the country is not directly involved. Instead, the Moscow-based Center for the Afghan Diaspora said it had arranged the conference and Russia's foreign ministry had only provided assistance on "technical questions."

But the Taliban delegation thanked Russia for facilitating the meeting and said Russia was playing an important role. The conference's organizers said Russia was now able to act as an impartial moderator for Afghans.

Russia has "proven that they don't support a single side of the conflict in Afghanistan," said Ghulam Jalal, an organizer from the diaspora center. "And they have won that name from the people of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan people now trust Russia more [...] than all the rest."

On Tuesday, violence continued in Afghanistan unaltered. A Taliban attack on police and army outposts near the city of Kunduz killed at least 23 members of the Afghan security forces, with 20 Taliban also killed.

Source: abc News

Taliban, Afghan opposition hold Moscow talks without government

Taliban and Afghan opposition including former president Hamid Karzai discussed a new constitution and women's rights.

Senior Afghan politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai, and a Taliban delegation held 'fruitful' talks about the adoption of a new constitution, interim government and women rights at a meeting in Moscow.

"We are exchanging our views. So this is the first step which we are taking towards peace and inshallah (God willing) in the future we will have more meetings," said the head of the Taliban delegation, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai.

The two-day talks marked the first time the Taliban officially met with high-level representatives, although none of them were part of the government and many were its political opponents. 

"We understand that the government in Kabul needs to be part of these negotiations, we wish that they would have been here today," said Karzai, adding it's an issue that the Taliban and the government have to resolve.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani dismissed the Moscow talks saying the Afghans attending carried no negotiating authority.

"Where is their executive power?" he asked in an interview with Afghan broadcaster Tolonews.

"Let hundreds of such meetings be held, but these would only be paper (agreements) unless there is an agreement by the Afghan government; Afghanistan£s national assembly and Afghanistan£s legal institutions," he said.

'We don't want to go back'

The United States said it made progress in its negotiations with the Taliban last month after six days of discussions in Doha.

Ghani was also excluded from those talks but said the US negotiator has kept him fully informed of progress. 

In Moscow, human rights advocate Hawa Nooristani and former parliament member Fawzia Koofi, were the first women to take part in any recent Taliban meetings. 

"When they (the Taliban) were in power, they would not even let women leave their homes," Koofi said. 

Afghan women are now guaranteed parliament seats, many hold high-level jobs, own businesses and attend school and university. 

Koofi urged the Taliban to "listen" to the Afghan people and to adapt to the current Afghan society. 

"We have come a very long way and we don't want to go back."

The Taliban indicated they want to change the current Afghan constitution they see as invalid because they say it was imported from the West.

"The sovereignty and establishment of an Islamic system conforming to our religious and Afghan values is our legal right," said Stanekzai.

Stanekzai said the Taliban also has a position on women's rights.

"The policy of the Islamic Emirate is to protect the rights of women in a way that neither their legitimate rights are violated nor their human dignity and Afghan values are threatened".

Powerful ex-governor Atta Mohammad Noor suggested one way for a peace process to move forward is to form an interim government that includes the Taliban.

"The interim government will help find a way for a transparent election," he said, referring to presidential elections scheduled for July.

"It will also help the political factions including the Taliban take part in the process," Noor said.

Ghani has rejected what he called rumours of an interim government and promised the election would be held on time.

"Ashraf Ghani's political opponents are trying to equate his government's unpopularity with illegitimacy," Ahmed Shuja Jamal, an Afghan analyst based in Washington DC, told Al Jazeera.

"The Ghani government may be unpopular, but it retains its de jure status as the representative entity for the country authorised to conduct foreign affairs.

"Sidelining the government will make it less likely that a peace deal will be struck and, if it is struck, it will be less likely to prove effective."

Violence continued

The Taliban has repeatedly refused hold direct talks with Ghani calling his goverment "US puppets".

"The Afghan government is the core of peace talks," senior Ghani advisor Ziaulhaq Amarkhil told Al Jazeera.

"As long as the core party is not involved in the peace process, no progress or major breakthrough will be made in such meetings." 

He accused the Afghan delegates in Moscow of using the talks to further their own political aims. 

As the Moscow were under way, violence across the Afghanistan continued.

The Taliban killed at least 47 security forces and policemen in separate attacks in the northern Kunduz, Baghlan and Samangan provinces.

"Both the US and the Afghan domestic political opposition are giving the Taliban what they always wanted: Talks with the US and with Afghan political elite minus engagement with the Afghan government," Shuja, the analyst said.

"Right now, the Taliban are winning."

Source: Al Jazeera


Edited by AfghanistanNews - 05-Feb-2019 at 5:51pm
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