Doha process

Create: 05/30/2015 - 09:30

KABUL (Pajhwok): In June 2013, the Taliban’s political office was set up in Doha with support from the US, Qatar, Germany and other powers for peace negotiations with the Afghan government. Ex-President Hamid Karzai’s administration was expected to cooperate work with the Taliban office in Qatar. But speaking to the Brookings Institution-sponsored US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, the former president came up with certain preconditions.
While lashing out at the US for a surge in extremism around the globe, he sought assurances on the scope of the Taliban office’s activities something he was unable to achieve. The proposal was initially floated at the end of 2011, with many seeing the idea as America’s diplomatic masterstroke. Defying calls from Washington, Karzai refused to recognize the much-hyped bureau.
The government rejected Taliban’s offer of talks because it wanted an explicit statement from the militants that they would negotiate only with High Peace Council (HPC) officials. But the Taliban’s proposal was apparently aimed at the Afghan government, without mentioning the state-controlled panel.
US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly pressured Karzai -- ahead of his visit to Qatar -- to accept the Doha office. About the phone call, one official said: “We have been squabbling with Western officials, particularly with Americans, over the past six months on why they have been backing the fighters. This is a pretty bizarre situation."
Karzai also took strong exception to Taliban’s raising their flag -- of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The former president vehemently denounced the move as unacceptable, arguing the Taliban office in Doha appeared much like a government in exile. The presidential stance dealt a serious blow to Washington’s desire to broker talks between the Taliban and the Karzai administration.
During his last official trip to the US, Karzai and his American counterpart President Barack Obama had supported the opening of the Taliban bureau -- one of several gestures, including the possible transfer to Qatar of militant leaders from Guantanamo Bay. The reference to the office in the joint statement by Obama and Karzai indicated the proposal was once again placed on the front burner.
The two leaders also agreed to accelerate the security switch in Afghanistan, suggesting Obama’s desire for a swift military pullout from the war-devastated country. Kabul and Washington have said time and again that any peace process must be Afghan-led.
At a meeting with the Emir of Qatar Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani in Doha. Karzai discussed the opening of the Taliban office. He also met other senior Qatari officials, renewing his terms that the Taliban could open their office in the Gulf state if they severed ties with Al-Qaida and renounced terrorism. The proposed Talks would be led by HPC, he maintained.
After inaugurating their first official overseas office in Doha, the Taliban said one of their main objectives was to meet the Afghans. The outfit had long declined meeting Karzai or his government representatives, dubbing them as US stooges.
But Karzai expressed his reservation about the Taliban office, hours after its opening. He voiced his grave concern at the peace process not being led by the Afghans. He put on ice plans for HPC negotiators to meet the insurgents. Kerry promised the Taliban flag and their sign would be removed, but the president remained unmoved.
The Gulf country agreed to offer Karzai the following guarantees during his second trip to Qatar in 2013: The peace parleys would eventually move to Afghanistan; the dialogue should lead to eradication of violence; and the Taliban office should not become a venue for other countries to misuse.
Set up in 2010, HPC was assigned to contact the Taliban and convince them to join the reconciliation process. Although the panel established sporadic contacts with some Taliban leaders, the initiatives did not produce the desired result.
Before the Taliban political office was inaugurated, there had been several ominous signs, including the summoning of the Qatari ambassador by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul. He was handed a formal demarche over the way the bureau was opened in Doha.
A month later, the Taliban closed their office in Qatar, pledging to fight on against the Afghan government. The announcement dashed hopes for finding a political end to the conflict. "They (the Taliban) do not go out of their homes in Doha and have not gone to the office since the removal of the flag and the plaque," the Associated Press quoted a Taliban source as saying.
In a statement on their website, the Taliban blamed Karzai and the US for the breakdown in negotiations. They accused the US and Afghanistan of showing no interest in peace parleys. Later, the insurgents flatly spurned Karzai's peace offer before the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Their spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said they saw jihad as an even greater obligation during the holy month.
Clandestine talks between US and Taliban officials on a prisoner swap agreement continued for months in Qatar. The prisoner release had been negotiated at the same time as the Qatar office plan. The negotiations resulted in the release of an American soldier in exchange for five Taliban leaders.
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan, was released in late May 2014 by Taliban. Bergdahl, who was taken prisoner after leaving his base in eastern Afghanistan on in mid-2009, was freed from captivity after nearly five years.
The deal was clinched after a week of intense negotiations that were mediated by the Qatar government, which later took custody of the Taliban detainees Mullah Noorullah Noori, Mullah Fazil, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, Mullah Abdul Haq Waseeq and Maulvi Mohammad Nabi Omari.
But the May 2-3 meeting in Qatar, which was clearly characterised as a non-official contact, has spurred optimism about the resumption of peace parleys. All participants freely expressed their personal opinions on a non-attributive basis.
There were several presentations and interventions by people linked to the various parties and groups of Afghanistan, to civil society representatives, including a few women, and United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) officials.
Held behind closed doors in Doha, the Afghan Dialogue, was attended by 44 people including HPC officials and representatives of the Hekmatyar-led Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan and Taliban.
From Kabul, the delegates included President Ashraf Ghani’s uncle Dr. Abdul Qayyum Kochi, Dr. Farooq Azam, Syed Ishaq Gilani, Haji Roohullah, Waheedullah Shahrani, Anwarul Haq Ahady, Maulvi Attaullah Ludin, Shahzada Shahid and HIA leaders Eng. Qutbuddin Hilal, Qaribur Rahman Saeed and Dr. Ghairat Baheer.

See also