Maldives – Denials by the Taliban and Hekmatyar faction of Hizbe Islami about peace talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government are intended to diminish the importance and credibility of last week’s intra-Afghan conference in the Maldives.
Those talks on the island nation were attended by unofficial representatives of two Taliban militias who came to participate in efforts to chalk out a peace mechanism to end the 9-year-old conflict.
But the reclusive leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, in a message posted November 15 on a militant website, repeated his calls for jihad and his demand for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan before negotiations.
A spokesman for Engineer Gulbadin Hekmatyar, chief of his own faction of Hizbe Islami, also denied having entered talks with Karzai’s government.
Nonetheless, more than 60 delegates from a variety of political and ethnic groups in Afghanistan and unofficial representatives of Taliban militia, Hekmatyar’s Hizbe Islami and even the Haqqani network attended the Maldives talks. More than half a dozen members of the Afghan parliament also participated, as did observers for Karzai’s government.
The third intra-Afghan conference in two years was organised by Humayoon Jareer, once a close associate of Hekmatyar.
Conference yields suggestion of supreme shura
The five-day conference, which ended November 11, discussed ways to bring all stakeholders in Afghanistan to the negotiating table. The delegates ended with formulation of a proposed peace mechanism, under which a supreme shura, the Shura-e-Aali Amniyat-e-Milli, would convene.
The supreme shura would include representatives from all political, ethnic and warring groups of Afghanistan.
Once in place, the supreme shura would scrutinise all major government policies before they are introduced before the parliament. Policies would have to pass with a two-thirds majority of the shura before moving on to parliament or being implemented.
The proposed shura would be authorised to scrutinise ministerial nominees before induction into the government, as well as candidates for the higher courts. The shura would also examine the government’s nominees for the Afghan Election Commission and Elections Complaints Commission.
The peace mechanism calls for creation of a Peace Commission to broker a ceasefire between the government and insurgent groups and to resist attempts to thwart peace efforts.
It also calls for an immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
A communiqué released on last day of the conference stressed that only Afghans should be involved in the peace process. It also asks the world community, the UN and Afghanistan’s neighbours to help in the return of peace to Afghanistan.
The conference organisers are hopeful and plan to discuss the proposed peace mechanism with insurgent groups.
The unofficial representatives of the Taliban and Hizbe Islami assured the conference that they would forward the recommendations to the militias’ top leaders and prepare ground for their successful implementation.
Maldives effect on broader peace plan is unclear
Despite the attractive recommendations and presence of unofficial representatives of militant groups, the prospect for the Maldives conference is unclear. A major reason is the absence of official representatives of the Taliban, Hizbe Islami, the Afghan government and the international coalition.
Despite shortcomings, the conference delegates are hopeful and a majority of the participants called the formulation of the peace mechanism a step forward.
To many, the Maldives conference was yet another effort undertaken by outside groups to thrash out a peace solution for Afghanistan.
Without engagement of the primary actors – the Taliban, the Kabul government, and the international coalition – and bringing them face-to-face for talks, peace in Afghanistan seems a distant reality. Those three groups need to come together for the return of a permanent peace in the war-torn country.
Neighbouring countries can also play a pivotal role in the return of peace to Afghanistan.
Pakistan, for example, can influence the Taliban leadership though it cannot dictate to them.
Saudi Arabia can help bring Afghans to the negotiating table. Riyadh, however, will not talk to the al-Qaeda- dominated Taliban.
Persistent efforts are required to convince the stakeholders to kick off peace talks. And efforts must be backed by all the neighbouring countries that have influence on any of the groups.