On threshold of second round of negotiations, Taliban’s goal is to seize power

With just two days to go before the second round of the intra-Afghan talks, members of the government’s negotiating team spoke of some issues they encountered in the first round of talks. According to one member of the delegation, the second round of talks, contrary to expectations, is not a discussion on religious issues and an exchange of political agendas, but rather a discussion on the division of power. According to him, after the first round of assessments, it became clear that the Taliban are eager to rule and are power-hungry, but with no plans on how to govern and build a better Afghanistan. On the other hand, a member of the government’s negotiating team believes that a domestic and foreign consensus on peace in Afghanistan has not yet been arrived at, and that some regional and neighboring countries continue to support the Taliban to varying degrees. Meanwhile, pro-Afghan countries are interested in an interim government while some countries in the region have called it an “American program.” However, according to the member of the negotiating team, the Supreme National Reconciliation Council, in addition to gaining a national and regional consensus, and breaking the alliance between Taliban allies, must also resolve the differences between the presidential palace and the Council, as it is “incorrect” for the delegation to receive instructions from two different authorities. The second round of intra-Afghan peace talks will begin on Tuesday, January 5, in Doha.

Ahead of the start of the second round of peace talks between government delegations and the Taliban in Doha, some delegation members spoke about the challenges, results and impressions of the first round of talks. At the roundtable of the Afghanistan Institute for Strategic Studies on Saturday, January 2, Hafiz Mansoor, a member of the government’s negotiating team, said that the Taliban were still hungry for power. He added that his impression of the first round of talks was that the Taliban are not a religious movement and are only pretending to be one. Mansoor believes that the Taliban, while eager to rule and power hungry, have no plans for ruling, and as a political group, they lack a clear plan and policy. The member of the negotiating team said that the Western media has created a “wrong” and “false” impression of the nature of the Taliban in recent years, and after the first round of talks, he was convinced that the Taliban’s mentality had not changed. To the contrary, they have become more “full of themselves” and “arrogant” on various issues.

According to Mr. Mansoor, the Taliban’s mentality is that everyone, from the Imam in the Pul-e Kheshti Mosque to the director of national security is a “servant of America” and another range of people, from literate women to schoolchildren, “are criminals and serve the United States.” Hafiz Mansoor said that the Taliban and most of the group’s leaders still maintain a militaristic spirit and “think they can seize power in Afghanistan by force.” He called the Taliban’s view a “serious threat” and said that he had warned senior government officials to this effect. “This is almost the fourth time in the last 100 years that Afghanistan has been in a similar situation,” he said. “Whether it is with King Amanullah Khan, Dr. Najibullah, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani and Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, these wars intensify mainly when peace talks are initiated on the side. This experience has been repeated in the last 100 years. Therefore, there is a great danger that as the peace talks are being held, the wars will intensify and the Taliban will try to turn the issue in their favor. Everyone should be careful.”

Mr. Mansoor, however, said there was still a small minority in the Taliban who thought more politically and did not see war as in the group’s interest. According to him, this group are not yet “decision-makers” and “do not count” because although the Taliban talk in private about peace, negotiation and a peaceful solution, they cannot openly express this opinion as a group, due to a belligerent spirit. According to him, major decisions are in the hands of those who pursue a military solution. Mr. Mansoor also said that the Taliban chant religious slogans solely to appease the public and provoke the masses, but at the table, there is no religious behavior to justify their actions, and there is no talk of it. The member of the negotiating team said that the process was likely to reach “what must be obtained and what must be taken into the future government.”

Government supporters want an interim government, but most countries in the region oppose it

Hafiz Mansoor told the roundtable that a number of countries that had stood by Afghanistan for the last 19 years, and continued to support the government, were in favor of concluding the talks. Although he believed that these countries were interested in bringing in an interim government, most countries in the region saw this approach as an “American program” and were not satisfied with the proposal of an interim government. Thus, Mr. Mansoor added that, contrary to what was heard, there was no consensus either inside or outside the country. In his opinion, a number of political groups within the country considered these talks as a good opportunity to be able to make a positive change in the country’s situation and the type of governance in place. However, he said that some people had not yet agreed to an interim government since, according to him, “there is a minority at the top of power and a majority outside power” with differing views.

According to Hafiz Mansoor, these two categories can clearly be seen, as some at the head of the government believe that a deal similar to that reached with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar should also be pursued with the Taliban. However, the overwhelming majority is in favor of preserving the republic, and if one party leaves and is replaced by another, peace is worth it. The delegation member believes that there is a very critical opportunity until May 1, when US troops withdraw, because the United States and its allies are working to reach an agreement between the government and Taliban negotiating delegations. According to him, however, those who seek the opposite are demanding more time.

The Taliban see women as “decor” at the negotiating table

Hafiz Mansoor, spoke of the challenges he faced during the first round of intra-Afghan peace talks. According to him, although it was clear that the dialogue between the warring parties began with hatred, resentment, and sarcasm, on the other hand, there were those who had a responsibility and must bear the additional burden. According to Mr. Mansoor, listening to the news of the attack on Kabul University and continuing to act normal was “not an easy task.” He added that in the first round of talks, the Taliban did not accept any reference to a “republic”, “republican system” and “government”, in the belief that negotiating with the United States was in fact negotiating with the government since this group saw the Afghan government a “subset” of the former. Mr. Mansoor described this period as “difficult”, but added that it got the members of the delegation to come together under one umbrella, despite their ethnic and religious diversity.

Mansoor also said that the Taliban attempted a religious ploy in the first round of talks, raising the issue of Shiites and Sunnis in order to create divisions among delegation members. But he said that the delegation did not fall for this, to their credit. He said that although the negotiation team had emphasized that women’s rights should be upheld during the talks, however, women’s rights cannot be upheld only on paper and women need to sit in front of the group in the negotiations. He added that the women had to face a group that considered women’s voices as forbidden and, seeing them as part of the décor. However, he said that it was an established reality that women are not simply part of the décor, but equal to any man when it comes to rights, talents and capacities. He said that proving this with the delegation was an important step in defending women’s rights and humanity. He further said that the monitoring countries had always confirmed and supported the words of the delegation, which in fact was a good achievement for the negotiating team.

Emphasis on reducing the distance between the Presidential Palace and the Reconciliation Council

Hafiz Mansoor also said that there was a need for the Supreme Council of National Reconciliation to form a consensus within the country, ensuring that no significant person or institution was left out, and that decisions were made collectively. According to Hafiz Mansoor, there was a difference of opinion between the government and the Reconciliation Council regarding the negotiations, which had to be eliminated as far as possible as, according to him, the duplication of instructions and orders from Arg and the National Reconciliation Council was “not correct.” He added that the Supreme Council of National Reconciliation, given that it was the decision-making body, needed to formulate the necessary plan for the Afghanistan’s future and submit it to the delegation because the negotiating team did not have the duty and authority to negotiate and plan at the same time. He further said that although Abdullah Abdullah, the chairperson of the Supreme National Reconciliation Council, had made diplomatic trips to foreign countries, “there is a consensus in support of the Taliban in the region and countries in the region support the Taliban to varying degrees.” He called on the Supreme Council for National Reconciliation to close this loophole in favor of the government.

In the past, other members of the government’s negotiating team have also shared their impressions of the first round of talks with the people. Now, the negotiating team is reportedly scheduled to travel to Doha on Monday, January 4. Thus, the two sides will start the second round of talks on January 5. Earlier, the Supreme Council for National Reconciliation said that a technical committee was being set up to guide the negotiating team. Before traveling to Doha, the government’s negotiating team was scheduled to meet with President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, to receive the necessary guidance.