Istanbul conference; sustainable peace provider or a destabilizing measure for Afghanistan?

April 9, 2021

Political parties, Afghanistan National Reconciliation Council and Government of Afghanistan are competing on better position or possible privileges in the future, and each- one is preparing separate proposal to submit in Istanbul peace conference. Considering the fact that Afghan government practically lost its capability for meaningful consensus to come up with a united proposal from Islamic Republic of Afghanistan address, presentation of many different proposals by different political parties and in particular, presenting separate proposals by Afghanistan National Reconciliation Council and Government of Afghanistan is practically shaking the Republican’s position in this conference and upcoming peace process. And most likely the Afghan government will never be able to participate in the peace talks from a united and powerful position in the future.

The other considerable points with regard to Istanbul conference are the possibility of different parties’ participation and the agenda of the conference. Taking into account that yet, the Taliban didn’t announce their decision on whether they are participating or not, and it is most likely that due to coincidence of the possible time of the conference with Ramadan they refuse to participate at the suggested time, the Afghanistan Government, Afghanistan National Reconciliation Council and other parties are preparing themselves to participate in this conference with separate but ambitious agendas. Afghanistan National Reconciliation Council claims that the Istanbul conference agenda will be defined in an order to finally agree on end of fighting, establish ceasefire, establishing a participatory government and resolve the Afghanistan armed conflict. Also, the Afghanistan president is asking Taliban in his proposal to accept the rights of Afghans and in particular women, accept the Afghanistan constitution, the Afghanistan military and civilian organization presence and as well as does not give permission for terrorist groups’ activities in Afghanistan if, they want to be part of the future power structure in Afghanistan.

Now, the questions which should be seriously taken into account are a) What is US goal and expectation in Istanbul conference? b) Do expectations of political parties, Afghanistan National Reconciliation Council and Government of Afghanistan who are participating with separate and possibly different proposals can have the chance to be discussed, and do the proposers have the capabilities to run strategic and result based dialogue in order to defend their proposals? c) And finally, if the Istanbul conference didn’t end with a touchable result, what would be its consequences for Afghanistan peace process?

Considering the fact that Afghanistan peace process is very complex and multidimension, any negotiation for peace in this country should take – if not all – but the most important and serious peace and conflict dimensions into account. In this regard, the peace negotiators of both sides in Doha have recently had serious and important achievements on getting into the agreement about the basics and framework of the current peace talks. Thus, Istanbul conference should boost the Doha peace talks. While it doesn’t seem so, and the United State is pursuing a specific goal at the Istanbul conference in order to get out of the situation resulted by its agreement with Taliban to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. Which obviously, the US expectations does not meet with the expectations of the Afghan participants. US goal in Turkey conference is to find a dignified solution to leave or stay in Afghanistan. In other word, if the Istanbul conference reach a definite conclusion on peace agreement and formation of future political settlement – which seems unlikely – at the same time US will agree with both side on a new withdrawal timeframe for its troops from Afghanistan by presenting limited and specific grantee. However, if the Istanbul conference doesn’t reach any definite result – which is most likely to be the case – then relying on the conference outcome which is clearly a disagreement between the Taliban and Afghan Government, the United State will announce postponed of its troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the Istanbul conference lacks the necessary ground to discuss and make final decisions with regard to ceasefire, future political settlement, the government and the common agreement for a lasting solution to the Afghanistan armed conflict. Also, to address these issues, the political parties participating in this conference need the specialized support of specialists and technical working group/s which this important measure has never been taken, and in addition to serious lack of inclusiveness in this conference, the participants from the Afghanistan government side enter the Istanbul conference with a series of expectations that, one cannot even name these set of expectations as coherent political proposal for peace. Because a coherent political plan is based on socio-economic, cultural and political studies and pursues specific goals in specific areas.

Therefore, raising issues such as ceasefire, the new political settlement, the next/transitional government, the acceptance of the constitution by Taliban, and other issues raised above, seem to be premature issues that could not be comprehensively discussed and decided in the Istanbul conference. Because the ground has not yet been prepared for the design, realization and decision making on these important issues. And these grounds can be created during the intensive and substantive talks in Doha and will provide a better opportunity to raising the final issues such as the form and manner of the future political settlement, elections, ceasefire and etc.

So, given the above noted points into account, the outcome of Istanbul conference cannot be beneficial and effective for lasting peace in Afghanistan. Due to the lack of preconditions for a final decision on peace in Afghanistan, the conference is likely to end inconclusively, and considering serious tensions at the Moscow conference, the war will be intensified, Doha peace talks will be damaged and even the existing fragile situation will get out of control. Or, in the most optimistic scenario, the decisions that will be made at this conference on peace, future political system, and the ceasefire, will plunge Afghanistan into a much more dangerous and serious crisis than before, a new crisis which its consequences will continue for years or even coming decades.

Hayatullah Jawad
April 7, 2021