Geneva Conference on Afghanistan: Kabul’s peace plan, a defeat for Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan

December 1, 2018 - 9:57

TEHRAN - Co-hosted by the Afghan government and the United Nations, the conference on Afghanistan in Geneva, Switzerland, on November 27-28 was attended by delegations from 61 countries and 35 international organizations and representatives of civil society.

The conference was crucial in measuring results against the $15.2 billion committed by the international community for Afghanistan in the 2016 Brussels Conference on Afghanistan.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres made the opening address followed by Salahuddin Rabbani, Afghan Foreign Minister, who for his part reported the development of his country.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in the conference announced his team to hold peace talks with the Taliban group. He called the “road map” for peace negotiations a move forward and said the plan comes after several months of intensive consultation with Afghan citizens across the country.

President Ghani noted that Afghanistan would enter the second phase of peace discussions and hoped for a peace agreement in which the Taliban would be included in a democratic and inclusive society.

“The Afghan government has formed a 12-member team to hold peace talks with the Taliban”, President Ghani also announced in the Swiss city of Geneva.  

The negotiating team will be led by presidential chief of staff Salam Rahimi and will include men and women with the “necessary credentials to deal with the key challenges of peace negotiations.”

According to President Ghani, to ensure consensus and to provide direction to the negotiating team, diverse groups of individuals will comprise a new peace advisory board to provide timely advice on critical issues during peace negotiations. The other members of the team are: Mohammad Mirwais Balkhi, minister of education, Hasina Safi, minister of information and culture, Abdul Tawab Balakarzai, deputy minister of higher education, Dr. Alema, deputy minister of refugees and repatriation, General Ebadullah Ebad, deputy of national directorate of security, Shahgul Rezaee, member of Wolesi Jirga, Attaullah Ludin, member of Ulema council, Shamim Katawazai, governor of Paktia province, Abdullah Attai, member of supreme court, Tooryali Ghiasi, director of cultural affairs, ministry of foreign affairs,  Abdul Hakim Muneeb, deputy minister of haj and religious affairs.

The Afghan president also announced the new peace advisory board which is comprised of the following nine committees: political leaders committee, political parties committee, youth affairs committee, women’s affairs committee, Ulema committee, provincial leaders committee, civil society and cultural committee, private sector committee, refugees and diaspora committee.

The representation of 12- member negotiating team for talks with the Taliban come after U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad asked the Afghan government and the Taliban to formulate their negotiating teams. 

According to the Presidential Office, three conditions were added to the peace plan for emphasizing the importance and credibility of the 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan: the basic partnership of Afghanistan with the international community, the leadership of the peace process by the Afghan government, as a result of consultation with the people

In the new Afghan peace plan, it has been emphasized that the country's presidential election must be held in 2019, as the Afghans need an elected government to pass a peace agreement and implement it.

However, regarding the Supreme Council of Afghanistan, since the formation of the Afghan High Peace Council in 2010, the council has been responsible for advancing peace talks with armed opposition groups, in particular the Taliban. The new Afghan peace plan will revise the structure of the High Peace Council. The council is expected to focus on awareness of the people after the peace deal.

As Ghani's first round of presidential term is coming to an end and he needs to be reelected for the continuation of the government, the new Peace Initiative emphasizes that the implementation of this plan will take five years.
From analysts' point of view, there is no new financial commitment at the Geneva Conference. The summit is a demonstration of the solidarity of the international community and the assessment of the aid and the Afghan government's report on the country's economic and political progress.

Why international conferences?

The new political system in Afghanistan began with the 2001 Bonn Conference, and thereafter, every few years, conferences are held in one of the capital cities of the donor countries to coordinate donation for reconstruction of Afghanistan.  These international conferences shape the framework of cooperation of the global community with Afghanistan.

The goal of the conference is to show the solidarity of the international community with the Afghan people and the government in their efforts for peace and prosperity; and for the Afghan government to renew its commitment to development and reform. The conference is also an opportunity to emphasize the importance of the development and reform agenda and the need to advance it as a constructive contribution to peace and security.

In general, these conferences pledge financial commitment to Afghanistan and at the same time the international community gets to review the progress of the Afghan government in rebuilding the country

Afghanistan’s Transformation Decade

On 5 December 2011, an International Conference on Afghanistan, the second Bonn Conference, was held in Bonn, Germany, a decade after the establishment of the new political system in Afghanistan.  The conference was hosted by Germany and chaired by Afghanistan. In the conference, a time frame was defined for Afghanistan’s transformation to become economically self-sufficient and self-reliance by 2024.

The transformation decade in Afghanistan was scheduled with the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan. In fact, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, formally ended its combat operation in Afghanistan and left the Afghan Armed Forces in charge of security.  NATO now only leads a non-combat mission to train, advice and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions the country.

Does Geneva Conference on Afghanistan have assistance to Afghan security forces on the agenda?

NATO and the U.S. assistance to Afghanistan come in the form of training Afghan security forces, military, and equipping their military and police forces.

What has been the achievement of the international conference on Afghanistan?

In the second Bonn Conference in 2011, a timetable was defined to bring Afghanistan and all the signatories at the conference together for financial commitments to Afghanistan every four years.
Various conferences on Afghanistan were held at the level of foreign ministers. In Tokyo in 2012, the donor countries gave $16 billion to Afghanistan in civilian aid over four years, in London in 2014, and Brussels in 2016 they pledged to give $15 billion to the country. The next conference will be held in 2020.

In 2014, in the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF) was defined between Afghanistan and the international community, under which a Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) was held in 2013 and every second year after that, and a Ministerial-level Meeting in 2020 to review and monitor of the progress and achievements in Afghanistan.

Afghan leaders, through the Geneva Conference, are seeking financial and political support from outside to counter the Taliban attacks, and bring solution to the critical domestic problems in Afghanistan. The Afghan refugee crisis is the focus of the meeting.

The Afghan government is seeking to gain control of districts in the hands of the Taliban while drought has spread across vast areas of Afghanistan forcing over 200 thousand Afghans leave their homes and move elsewhere.  

Iran’s position

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif delivered a speech to the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan and declared Iran is ready to continue to help the people and government of Afghanistan in their quest for peace and cooperate with all with the same objective.
What follows is the full text of Zarif’s speech:

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

It is very timely to have this ministerial meeting when we face immense opportunities and challenges in Afghanistan. We appreciate UNAMA’s efforts and thank President Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah for their courageous leadership and insightful presentations. We are encouraged by their approach to reconciliation. Let me make a few brief points:

There is national, regional and global consensus that there is no military solution in Afghanistan, and the time has come to for national reconciliation and inclusive political solution in Afghanistan, owned and led by the Afghan government and people. This ministerial meeting and the complimentary Kabul, Tashkent and Moscow formats attest to this momentum which must be seized.

There are old and new challenges. The presence of foreign forces has never brought stability in our region and has historically provided a recruiting ground for extremists. A new challenge is the introduction of ISIL (Daesh) to Afghanistan which has led to more bloodshed and introduced dangerous sectarian tendencies. More dangerously, it has radicalized the local armed groups in a competition over followers and recruits. Believe me, as no one gained from introducing and supporting ISIL and other extremists in Syria and Iraq, no one will gain from introducing them to Afghanistan and Central Asia. This horrific trend needs to be arrested before it reaches catastrophic proportions.

Terrorism and drug trafficking have always been mutually reinforcing in Afghanistan. We need a comprehensive strategy to fight the drug menace, which must include economic development in this resource rich country. Connectivity is key and Iran’s sea and rail links including Chabahar are essential for Afghan development. It is regrettable that unlawful unilateral sanctions impede cooperation.

All of us need to facilitate the intra-Afghan dialogue, by helping to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with the Government for inclusive and comprehensive talks. Domestic and regional inclusion is key to success.

The achievements of Afghan people over the last two decades, particularly the Constitution of Afghanistan and the democratic process provide the foundations for peace and stability. We welcome the recent parliamentary elections and look forward to a free and fair presidential election in April.

What Americans Say

The U.S. Department of State in a statement said the Geneva Convention on Afghanistan serves as an important opportunity for the international community to review Afghans’ progress and to start planning for that future. “In the conference the international community will review the effort to attain a lasting peace and prosperity for the Afghan people.”

U.S. Under Secretary of State David Hale said he was encouraged by the plan for talks and the formation of a negotiating team. “The time has come to plan for an Afghanistan of peace,” he told the conference.

Washington’s stance comes when US policy in Afghanistan has failed

Ray al-Youm newspaper has written, “U.S. President Donald Trump faces a near-defeat in Afghanistan due to increasing number of injured or dead American forces with the Taliban severe attacks and decline in NATO-backed Afghan police forces.”  

Last week U.S. troop commander in Afghanistan reported a road side bomb blast, by the Taliban, killed three American service men and injured another three near Afghan city of Ghazni. The death toll of American forces has reached 12 since the beginning of 2018.
The figure is perhaps small compared to the 2,200 US soldiers killed prior to 2015, but if we consider the deaths of 30,000 Afghan forces in the Taliban's conflict over the past three years and the new U.S. troop death toll, the number is considerable, particularly that the death toll rises in the spring as the Taliban attacks intensify.

Trump and tough options in Afghanistan

Trump has two options ahead in Afghanistan. First, to boost U.S. troops to prevent progress of the Taliban who have 14 districts, 4% of the country, in their full control. That way a political solution may be reached when the Afghan Armed Forces extend control over the country, pressuring the Taliban for peace negotiations.

Second option, which Trump has picked, is holding talks with the Taliban. Trump sent an Afghan-born U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad to meet with Taliban leaders in the Qatari capital, Doha, where with the U.S. consent, the Taliban opened their very first official overseas office. The five meetings so far have been fruitless, a proof of the difficulties and gap between the two sides.

Washington seeks a political solution that the Taliban-backed American group would also have a role in the Afghan government. However, the Taliban are calling for swift removal of foreign forces fighting alongside Afghan troops in the country, wanting the Afghan government to release fighters from jails across the country, and asking for the same condition before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

The U.S. will face defeat in Afghanistan as they did in Iraq and will eventually remove troops from the country to prevent further damages and death toll. The U.S. plan has failed politically and geographically, leaving Trump with no choice but to swallow the bitter pill of defeat, sooner or later. History has proved that perpetrators won’t leave two countries in the world successfully: Afghanistan and Yemen.

We hope the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan to bear fruit and help stabilize the region, although the root cause of troubles is the interference of foreign forces in the region, particularly the U.S.

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