Afghanistan juggles presidential polls, peace talks

Amid peace negotiations country has witnessed mammoth surge in violence claiming hundreds of lives on all sides

Shadi Khan Saif   | 06.09.2019
Afghanistan juggles presidential polls, peace talks file photo

KABUL, Afghanistan

Kabul has expressed growing anxiety over the proposed agreement between the U.S. and Taliban as Afghanistan juggles between key presidential elections and the fragile yet rejuvenated peace process.

As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani keeps his cards to the chest, officials around him have switched their reactions from initial cautious skepticism to grim concerns following top U.S. peace negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad's conclusion of marathon negotiations with the insurgents in Doha, Qatar.

Over the weekend, Khalilzad, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, said the U.S. and the Taliban had clinched an agreement "in principle" pending approval from U.S. President Donald Trump. In a televised interview with the local Tolo News, he said the deal would see an initial withdrawal of 5,000 American troops within 135 days.

Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan president, told Anadolu Agency that peace remains a top priority for the government and the guiding principles for it have been set by thousands of public representatives at the 'Loya Jirga' (traditional gathering of local elders) earlier this year.

"Just as the former U.S. officials and senators have expressed concerns about the implications of this agreement (between the U.S and Taliban), the Afghan government is also concerned, and therefore, we want clarity on this document to thoroughly analyze its dangers and consequences," he said.

Sediqqi was referring to the nine former U.S. ambassadors and envoys who recently wrote in a commentary on the Atlantic Council think tank website that the Trump administration needed to avoid a hasty exit to ensure Daesh and other extremists are not given more space to operate and to avoid undermining the Afghan people’s chance to live under a democratic government.

"A major troop withdrawal must be contingent on a final peace," the former diplomats wrote. "The initial U.S. drawdown should not go so far or so fast that the Taliban believe that they can achieve military victory."

Rumors rife

Not much is made public about the nitty-gritty of the proposed deal. Rumors making rounds on social media suggest an interim administration for 18 months has been proposed to oversee an overhaul of the constitution, the inclusion of the Taliban in the power structure, intra-Afghan talks and gradual ceasefire.

In a more candid reaction, Waheed Omar, director general at the Office of Public and Strategic Affairs, said in a series of tweets that some of the details of the U.S.-Taliban agreement need "serious debate and revision". Earlier on Monday, he said that Khalilzad has shown a copy of the draft framework to Ghani but not handed it over. The Afghan government led by Ghani sees the postponement of the Sept. 28 presidential elections as rolling back of the state-building process and surrendering to the insurgents.

Well-placed sources told Anadolu Agency Khalilzad has held multiple rounds of talks with Ghani since Sunday, and has pushed for the establishment of a delegation for intra-Afghan dialogue with Taliban. The sticking point remains whether this proposed delegation should represent and defend the government or remain neutral.

Ghani's power-sharing chief executive and rival presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah told an election rally on Wednesday that for him the peace process has priority even over the elections.

Political commentator Mohammad Hussein argued that the peace process has become the single dominant issue in the ongoing election campaign among all 16 candidates. "Common people are just puzzled because the politicians are deeply divided [over the proposed peace agreement]. In my personal views, this deal in its current form has a lot for the Taliban to cheer about and the Afghan government and people to worry about," he said.

Parallel to all the political wrangling on all sides, the country has witnessed a mammoth surge in violence particularly in the northern provinces claiming scores of lives on all sides.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has tracked nearly 100,000 civilian casualties in the country since the agency began keeping count in 2009, with 1,500 recorded in July of this year alone. It has warned the spasm of violence could jeopardize months of progress made on the peace deal.

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