Taliban fighters in Jalalabad in 2018. (Photo by Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – A U.S.-proposed initiative aimed at prodding Afghans towards a political resolution places the Taliban – the violent fundamentalist militia that harbored al-Qaeda before and after 9/11 – and the current Afghan government on an equal footing.
It calls for all appointments in an envisaged interim power-sharing government to be made “according to the principle of equity between the two Parties.”
According to the leaked proposals, the Taliban and government would each appoint seven members of a proposed “high council for Islamic jurisprudence,” with a 15th member appointed by the president. The council would provide Islamic guidance to government at all levels, and ensure that all draft laws and decrees comply “with the beliefs and provisions of Islam.”
In the event of disputes over such matters the Supreme Court will have the final say, but according to the proposals, that body also will comprise “independent religious and contemporary legal scholars” appointed in equal numbers by the Taliban and the government, again with the president appointing a final member.
And joint committees comprising an equal number of representatives from the Taliban and government would develop policies relating to justice, reconciliation, rehabilitation of former combatants, traditional dispute resolution, and other issues.
Underpinning all appointments in the transitional “peace government” will be the standard of “equity.”
“All appointments to the Peace Government shall be made 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,” says the “discussion draft” proposals put forward by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
The leaked document was published by the Afghan news agency Tolo. It also published a letter from Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani outlining a pathway to accelerate the transition process – but also warning that the U.S. was considering all options regarding Afghanistan, including full troop withdrawal by May 1.
State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday did not dispute the documents’ veracity, even as he said it was important that diplomatic efforts were able to be conducted “in private.”
He also stressed that proposals put forward by the U.S. were merely suggestions, not an attempt to dictate a solution.
“Every idea we have put on the table, every proposal that is out there – certainly any proposal that we would endorse – we understand that this process at its core must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.”
Taliban gunmen and supporters in Afghanistan’s Laghman province last year. (Photo by Noorullah Shirzada/AFP via Getty Images)
Asked whether it made sense for the Taliban and government to have a future role in governing and securing Afghanistan, Price said that if any deal was to be effective, “it needs to be just and it needs to be durable.”
Price said the administration’s interest, like those of the previous three administrations, was “to find a means to quell the violence” and reach a settlement that is durable, “not fleeting.”
‘An abiding common interest’
The pathway mentioned in Blinken’s purported letter includes an envisaged ministerial-level meeting between himself and counterparts from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and India, “to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.”
“It is my belief that these countries share an abiding common interest in a stable Afghanistan and must work together if we are to succeed,” the letter stated.
Price declined to comment on “any reported private correspondence,” but he did say was true that the department “is consulting closely with allies, with our partners, with countries in the region, with how all of us collectively can support that peace process.”
While all five of those countries claim to want to see a stable Afghanistan, India alone could be said to be aligned with U.S. (as well as as its own) national interests in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s role in the Afghanistan conflict is long and controversial, with Afghan and Indian leaders for years accusing it covertly backing the Taliban and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan. Islamabad routinely denies the allegations, despite substantial recorded evidence of collusion.
“Pak is a direct party to the Afg conflict & crisis,” Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh, a former intelligence chief, tweeted on Monday. “Treating them as normal neighbor won’t help the peace process. Defining their role in war & peace must be part of the discussion. Silence, sugar coating, appeasement or simply ignoring it won’t help. [Taliban] leaders are in Pakistan.”
During the U.S. election campaign, it was reported that Russia had offered the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan. The claim, denied by Russia, is one of the key focus areas in a review of Russian “malign activities” being carried out by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, ordered by President Biden soon after taking office.
Last summer, CNN reported on U.S. intelligence agency assessments that Iran, too, had offered bounties to Taliban fighters to target American and coalition troops in Afghanistan. Iran denied the allegation.
Shortly before leaving office then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated claims that Iran has secretive links to al-Qaeda, the Taliban’s longstanding ally in Afghanistan. Iran moreover continues to shelter al-Qaeda suspects in the deadly bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa 23 years ago.
(Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday it would consider taking part in a conference as suggested by Blinken, if invited, adding that “Afghanistan is important to us.”)
China’s interests in Afghanistan are expressed largely in the light of its concerns about the spillover of terrorism into its far-western Xinjiang province. But South-Central Asia is also an important region for Beijing’s geo-political and geo-economic maneuvering via its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
China, already the biggest foreign investor in Afghanistan, will likely seek to draw it further into the BRI once U.S. troops have left, increasing its influence at the expense of U.S. and Indian interests. That China is a close ally of Pakistan adds to concerns for India, Pakistan’s arch-rival.