ISLAMABAD - Addressing a conference on Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani described a three-step process for “making, building and sustaining peace” that he said should result in a “sovereign, democratic, united, neutral and connected Afghanistan.”
The two-day Heart of Asia conference in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, is one of a host of regional conferences that have been taking place to try to jump start a stalled Afghan peace process.
The two sides to this decades-long conflict started negotiating in September of last year in Qatar’s capital, Doha, but have yet to make progress.
The first phase of Ghani’s plan would involve coming to a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban that was endorsed by a Loya Jirga, or a traditional grand assembly of influential Afghans.
It would also include a cease-fire as well as reaching consensus on the principles of forming a “government of peace-building within the framework of the constitution with a time-bound mandate culminating in an internationally supervised and monitored presidential election,” he told the gathering.
This phase, Ghani said, should end in elections under international supervision and pave the way for the phase of sustaining peace through “national reconciliation, reintegration of combatants and refugees, defining our new security, development and governance priorities.”
While the proposal of forming a transitional government is in line with one proposed by the United States, it differs in its emphasis of sticking to the framework of the current constitution, which the Afghan Taliban reject.
It also differs on its emphasis on making elections the basis of transferring power. The U.S. proposal envisions a transitional “peace government” that was appointed “according to the principle of equity between the two Parties to this Agreement, with special consideration for the meaningful inclusion of women and members of all ethnic groups throughout government institutions.”
Ghani is expected to take this plan to a conference in Turkey, expected in the next few weeks, that is being watched carefully as part of a U.S. push to boost regional diplomacy.
"So, we’ve put some energy into the diplomatic effort in sharing some ideas with the Afghan government, with the Taliban, in bringing them together, including a conference that will take place in the weeks ahead in Turkey. Having the U.N. play a more prominent role in bringing people together and also, getting all the neighbours and other countries who have both an interest and an influence in Afghanistan to actually engage,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN in a recent interview.
The push comes ahead of a deadline the U.S. is unlikely to meet to withdraw all foreign forces from Afghanistan. The May 1 deadline is part of a deal the U.S. negotiated with the Taliban and the militant group has threatened bloody consequences if the deal is violated.
Experts fear if the foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan without a political settlement, the country could descend into a bloody civil war as it did once before in the 1990s after the Soviets left.
Addressing the conference, the president of the host country, Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, spoke to the gathering about the civil war in Tajikistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union that lasted five years and killed almost 160,000 people.
The first meeting between the warring factions, the government officials and the rebels, was held in Kabul in the 1990s through the mediation efforts of former president of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani.
The end of any war, Rahmon said, was reconciliation, and his country supported the intra-Afghan negotiations to reach a political settlement.
Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, emphasized the need for a responsible withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and warned of the need to be vigilant against Islamic State in the region.
Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi underscored the importance of making the ongoing intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha the foundation of Afghanistan’s peace process, according to a press release issued by Pakistan’s foreign ministry.
The Pakistani foreign minister also emphasized that a political settlement in Afghanistan needed to be inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive in order to be successful.
Foreign ministers of 13 countries, besides Afghanistan and Tajikistan, attended the conference.
The Heart of Asia process was launched in 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey, to help find a solution to the challenges facing Afghanistan. Fifteen countries participate in the process, while another 17 countries and 12 regional and international organizations support it.