By Syed Zafar Mehdi

Sidestepping govt, Afghan politicians hold ‘fruitful talks’ with Taliban in Moscow

February 7, 2019 - 1:39

TEHRAN - Despite strong protest from the government in Kabul, senior Afghan politicians led by former president Hamid Karzai held two-day talks with a Taliban delegation in Moscow.

The talks, pertaining to the adoption of a new Constitution, interim government and women rights, were described as “fruitful” by the members of the Afghan delegation.

The two-day talks is the first time a Taliban delegation has officially met with senior Afghan politicians, although the participants were not representing the government.

“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,” the head of the Taliban delegation, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, was quoted as saying.

Afghan government has strongly denounced the Moscow talks since the Taliban delegation agreed to talk to Afghan politicians, except President Ashraf Ghani, hence sidelining the government.

President Ghani’s supporters feel Moscow talks will provide legitimacy to the insurgent group and undermine the national unity government (NUG).

In an interview to Tolo News before the Moscow talks, President Ghani said the Afghan politicians participating in Moscow talks lack ‘negotiating authority’.

“Where is their executive power,” he asked. “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 stressed.

Karzai, speaking on the non-inclusion of Afghan government in the talks, said he wants the talks to be inclusive in which the representatives of the Kabul government also take part.

“We understand that the government in Kabul needs to be part of these negotiations, we wish that they would have been here today,” the former president was quoted as saying, adding it's an issue that the Taliban and the government must resolve.

Among those who participated in the talks included Karzai, presidential candidate Hanif Atmar, former Balkh governor Ata Mohammad Noor, leader of Hezb e Wahdat Mohammad Mohaqeq, besides others.

Two female politicians – human rights advocate Hawa Nooristani and former parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi – also were part of the delegation.

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,” she was quoted as saying.

According to reports, the Taliban indicated that they want to amend the current Afghan constitution which they see as invalid and import of the West.

“The sovereignty and establishment of an Islamic system conforming to our religious and Afghan values is our legal right,” Stanekzai was quoted as saying, adding that the insurgent group has a position on women’s right too.

“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,” he was quoted as saying.

Former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, who was also part of the Afghan delegation, suggested the formation of an interim government that includes the Taliban as the way out of the logjam.

“The interim government will help find a way for a transparent election,” he was quoted as saying, referring to July general elections. “It will also help the political factions including the Taliban take part in the process.”

President Ghani’s supporters have accused the opposition leaders of rushing to peace talks with Taliban to push their own political agendas ahead of elections.

Afghan foreign ministry termed it a “political drama” and deputy foreign minister Idrees Zaman took to Twitter to denounce the talks. “From the meetings in the lawns of Peshawar’s Governor house to the sittings in Moscow and collective dementia of our political elite. Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” he wrote.

Russian government has publicly distanced itself from the talks, but according to reports Russian envoy to Kabul Zamir Kabulov is behind the initiative.

Moscow had hosted a multilateral summit on Afghanistan last November, inviting officials from regional countries, besides a Taliban delegation. The talks were hailed as “groundbreaking”.

Taliban has held several rounds of talks with the U.S. government envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in recent months, latest being six-day talks in Qatar last month, after which the two sides reportedly reached an agreement.

Following Qatar talks, President Ghani’s office issued a statement saying Khalilzad had no authority to discuss the future Afghan administration, referring to reports about possible role for Taliban in the interim Afghan government.

“We have the experience of Dr. Najibullah’s peace process, how he was cheated, the UN had given him the peace guarantee, but unfortunately it led to tragedy,” he said last week, clearly expressing his frustration over the unfolding events.

Meanwhile, as the talks were underway in Moscow, violence continued in Afghanistan. The Taliban killed at least 47 security forces and policemen in separate attacks in the northern Kunduz, Baghlan and Samangan provinces over the past two days.