Ahead of talks in Turkey, Afghan side for ‘conditions-based’ approach with Taliban
As the Afghanistan government prepares for talks with the Taliban in Turkey this month, the Afghan side is hoping the US will adopt a “conditions-based” approach instead of a time-bound framework for its dealings with the Taliban, people familiar with developments have said.
Afghan government representatives and the Taliban are expected to hold talks in Istanbul on April 16 as part of the US administration’s fresh push to put in place a ceasefire and create conditions for a transition in Kabul. The talks are part of a four-point plan outlined in a letter sent by US secretary of state Antony Blinken to President Ashraf Ghani in February.
The Biden administration is yet to take a call on pulling out all American troops from Afghanistan by May 1, the deadline set by the previous Trump administration in an agreement signed with the Taliban last year. The White House has said it will be tough to meet the deadline and that President Joe Biden is continuing consultations with his national security team and partner countries.
“The US should adopt a conditions-based approach with the Taliban and not a time-bound approach. The agreement signed by the Trump administration imposed conditions with huge consequences on the Afghan side, which wasn’t even party to the agreement signed last year,” one of the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.
“More time is needed to address the security situation and anyway, the Afghan forces are now in the lead in the operations being conducted on the ground,” the person added.
The Indian government has not commented publicly on the issue of the May 1 deadline but the Indian side has in the past informed the US side that the troop drawdown in Afghanistan must be done in a planned and orderly manner to ensure that it doesn’t create a vacuum that can be exploited by the Taliban and foreign terror groups operating in the war-torn country, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The Afghan side believes there has been no change in the attitude of the Taliban, which is believed to be behind a wave of targeted assassinations and bombings in Afghan cities that have claimed scores of lives. “The Taliban have also not cut their links with al-Qaeda or other foreign groups operating in Afghanistan as they were required to do under the agreement with the US,” said a second person.
“The removal of sanctions and other restrictions on the Taliban has also reduced the leverage that can be used against them,” the first person said.
Some experts believe one of the focus areas of the upcoming talks in Istanbul will be an extension of the deadline for withdrawal of US troops. Besides the talks in Turkey, the Biden administration intends to ask the UN to convene a meeting of the foreign ministers of India, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and the US to forge a unified approach for a settlement in Afghanistan.
One of the factors behind the decision to ask Turkey to host the peace talks is the country’s perceived leverage and close relations with Pakistan, which exercises a great deal of control over the Taliban, the people cited above said.
“The Doha process has run its course and several countries were interested in hosting the next round of talks, including Indonesia, Uzbekistan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, which was considered to be more suitable,” the first person said.
Germany and Norway, which have played a role in facilitating peace talks between Afghan groups, have shown an interest in having a role in the upcoming talks in Istanbul, either in the form of formal participation or as observers, the people said.
In recent years, Germany had even offered to host intra-Afghan talks.
While addressing the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process meeting in Tajikistan on March 30, President Ghani outline his vision for a peaceful settlement – a ceasefire and a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban to be endorsed by a Loya Jirga or traditional assembly, consensus on forming a transitional government within the framework of the Afghan Constitution, and a time-bound plan for holding an internationally monitored presidential election.