Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Pushing Open the Door to Peace? Pugwash organises next round of Taleban talks in Qatar

Thomas Ruttig 20 min

Preparations are on-going for what are labelled “non-official” talks between Afghans of “different parties.” Organised by the non-governmental academic network, the Pugwash Conference, this will be a follow up to a first round of such talks held in Qatar on 2 and 3 May 2015 which brought members of the two biggest insurgent organisations – the Taleban and Hezb-e Islami – as well as political and civil society figures from inside Afghanistan and some internationals, mainly from the United Nations, to one table. All had been invited in their individual capacities. It was not the first time an Afghanistan-related gathering was organised by the Pugwash Conference. However, it was the first time that a final statement was released. This document contains some surprising elements of consensus, writes AAN’s senior analyst Thomas Ruttig. He also asks whether this consensus can kick start, and then sustain, negotiations for a political settlement in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a recent meeting between Afghan government and Taleban representatives in China signals a possible edging (in deeds, not in words) of the Taleban towards direct talks with the government and has given new momentum to these developments.

The (officially defunct) Taleban office in al-Khor, Qatar. Photo: ToloNews.The (officially defunct) Taleban office in al-Khor, Qatar. Photo: ToloNews.

A new attempt to get different parties to the Afghan conflict talking is under way. Since Saturday, 30 May, Professor Paulo Cotta-Ramusino, the Secretary-General of the Pugwash Conference has been scheduled in Kabul to prepare for a follow-up meeting to one it had organised in Qatar in early May. (Amendment 2 June: The trip seems to have slightly been postponed.) One of the participants of that meeting, MP Seyyed Ishaq Gailani, told AAN that Cotta-Ramusino will talk to bozorgha-ye mamlakat (“elders of the country”), including President Ashraf Ghani and the government’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Abdullah as well as delegates from the last meeting. On 6 June, there will also be a preparatory meeting in Dubai between Taleban ‘representatives’ and six participants from Kabul – including Gailani, Shahzada Shahid from the High Peace Council (HPC) and Qutbuuddin Helal, a member of Hezb-e Islami who ran for president last year after returning from exile. The next Qatar meeting, possibly with broader participation than the previous one, will be held after the month of Ramadan which ends around 17 July.

The Qatar meeting in early May came a bit out of the blue, although it was not the first Afghanistan-related gathering organised by the Pugwash Conference, a renowned international non-governmental network of scientists that sometimes helps to mediate in armed conflicts and that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. The Pugwash-organised meetings come after a number of earlier attempts to get Afghans, including representatives of the insurgents, together which, however, had no follow-up (see AAN analysis of those here). These attempts included an “academic conference” (a term also used for the Pugwash gathering by the Taleban) in the Japanese city of Kyoto in June 2012 during which, for the first time, a high-ranking Taleban member (former planning minister Qari Din Muhammad Hanafi) participated; a meeting in Chantilly in France in December 2012 and a number of even earlier meetings in the Maldives in 2010. A UN initiative to start an ‘intra-Afghan dialogue,’ (1) planned for February 2013 in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabad, was blocked by an angry then-president Karzai. The May Qatar meeting was also preceded by a training course in Norway on the role of ceasefires in peace processes where Taleban sat in the same room with officials of the Afghan government – along with people from other countries.

The Qatar set-up

The Pugwash-organised meeting took place in al-Khor, a Qatari spa town north of the capital Doha (where the Taleban’s famous ‘Doha office’ is situated) after a year-long lull in contacts. (Following sentence amended 3 June:) The last contact between any party and the Taleban, apart from possible individual, explorative contacts, (2) were those of the US government, through Qatar, a year ago that led to the release of Bowe Bergdahl, the only US soldier held by the Taleban; he was exchanged for five Taleban internees from Guantanamo. (The Taleban refused to meet directly since early 2012.) After the exchange, this line of contact went cold, mainly over the Taleban’s refusal to hold direct talks with the government in Kabul (led by then-president Hamed Karzai), which the insurgents consider a ‘puppet’ administration. (According to one participant in the recent talks in al-Khor, the Taleban avoided using the word hukumat (government) but spoke of edara-ye Kabul (Kabul administration) instead; at the same time, the non-Taleban delegates referred to them as “Taleban” not “the Emirate.”)

Both the main insurgent groups – the Taleban and Hezb-e Islami – sent high-ranking people. For the latter, Mullah Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanakzai from the leadership council, deputy head of the Taleban political commission, attended; most others were from the team of the officially defunct Qatar office (biographies here). Hezb-e Islami sent its deputy party leader, Ghairat Bahir, who, under Karzai, had often travelled to Kabul (see AAN analysis here and here).

From Afghanistan, major political forces or their leaders – from different mujahedin factions to the ‘Karzai camp’ to ‘civil society’ – were asked to nominate participants. Most decided to send lesser-known people. The most prominent were two former ministers, Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi and Wahidullah Shahrani (who started his career in high-ranking positions under Karzai); MP Ishaq Gailani (who as a member of a prominent family of spiritual leaders also commands respect among insurgents), former MP Malalai Shinwari (one of only three women); Fahim Hakim, a civil society activist and former member of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; and two high-ranking HPC members, deputy chairman Ataullah Ludin and spokesman Shahzada Shahed. Apart from them, Qayyum Kuchai, the chairman of the Ahmadzai tribal council and uncle of the president, attended, as well as some lesser known politicians linked to former mujahedin factions, some known to be close to former president Hamed Karzai and a few other civil society activists. Another politician reportedly invited, former deputy foreign minister Ershad Ahmadi, decided not to attend. (He recently accompanied former president Karzai on his China visit, though; see a media report here).

Many of the participants, on all sides, were Pashtuns, but it was noticeable that almost no ‘Kandaharis,’ ie Pashtuns from southern Afghanistan, were there; almost all came from the east or southeast. (An official list of participants has not been released, so find a tentative list – combined from media and other reports – at the end of this dispatch.)

As it is usual in track II meetings like this one, participants were invited in their personal capacity. This allows them to speak freely, rather than be forced to fully represent their organisations’ views – although, at the same time (as was the case in Qatar), such views are aired, opening the chance to channel back to organisations ideas raised. Not all participants found it easy to stick to this principle. The Taleban made their anger known after Ludin identified himself as the HPC vice chair. Despite this, reporters on the ground and some participants described the atmosphere of the talks as generally amicable.

One participant told AAN that some participants did not leave al-Khor immediately after the 2–3 May talks, indicating more private contacts may have occurred after the official two rounds of exchange.

Insofar as the Pugwash Conference filled a vacuum, it created a new chance to kick-start talks again, with the aim of moving to a regular peace process – a term explicitly used in the final communiqué. (It even says that the peace process “should be speeded up.”) It would be a large step forward if the participating (non-)sides would see the al-Khor meeting as part of, or precursor to, such a process.

Going public

Another first at al-Khor was the release of a communiqué (full text here) outlining the type of meeting and the “important common points” that “emerged.” This fact alone highlights the fact that the inviting organisation, at least, saw the time was ripe to make the discussion public; the document contains issues that need to be tackled if and when future talks – the planned follow-up and, possibly later, more formal negotiations – commence. It was also a nod to those in Afghanistan who have often demanded that ‘peace talks’ should not be held in secrecy, because they fear secret talks might result in backroom deals that determine the destiny of a whole nation without sufficient inclusion and information. It must be noted, though, that the organisers seemed to have authored the communiqué. That does not seem to have been a problem: no participant made a public protest, either about the publication as such or about the content. (There still might be issues about nuances: according to some reports there was no agreement that foreign troops leave “soon” but rather “eventually.”) The communiqué, at least, made it possible to ‘map’ common ground and to identify where gaps are that need to be bridged.

The Taleban later published a statement on their official website that their participants had read out and distributed in al-Khor (full texts here, in English and in Pashto). There, they had insisted – in accordance with the spirit of the “non-official” meeting (as Pugwash labelled it) – that this paper was not their organisation’s official stance. But such ambiguity, on all sides, is part of this kind of pre-negotiation meeting.

The al-Khor communiqué and the Taleban statement also reiterate what participants said were the Taleban’s ‘preconditions’ but what the Taleban, maybe more accurately, called the “main hurdles in the way for peace,” ie their key demands: the “occupation, black list and reward list, non-availability of an official address for the Islamic Emirate, continuing to keep political prisoners behind bars [sic].” Participants say that the Taleban also demanded that the government be represented by people who “really believe in peace” (another sign that they might indeed consider direct talks, but also that they do not consider the current personnel genuine on the issue) and that “negative propaganda should be abandoned,” ie the other side should stop calling them “terrorists.” One participant said it was notable how little other participants pushed back on the Taleban claim that the war was against ‘invaders and puppets.’

Agreements . . .

The communiqué contains some – at first glance – surprising points of consensus:

The idea of bringing about peace in Afghanistan and ending the conflict was wholeheartedly supported by all the participants.

The civilian casualties of the Afghan conflict have been lamented by everybody. . . . Protection of civilians is, as it should be, a priority for everybody.

Any political discrimination against any Afghan political party or group would be an obstacle to the peace process. . .

Corruption and the production/selling of drugs are among the most serious problems of Afghanistan. . .

The value of education for both men and women was underlined by everybody. Economic development in Afghanistan will heavily depend on peace . . .

In any case, the government of Afghanistan will be an Islamic one. This does not mean that minorities of any sort should be discriminated against. . .

The model of the so-called Islamic State (Daesh) is alien to the tradition and the desires of the Afghan people. . .

The relation with neighbouring countries should be kept amicable, and cooperation with such countries should be strengthened. This does not mean that neighbouring countries are welcome to interfere with Afghan internal affairs.

The Taleban’s al-Khor statement, not reflected in the final communiqué, also contains what appears to be revolutionary wording about women’s rights:

The Islamic Emirate is committed to all rights of women in all walks of life which are bestowed upon them in the sacred religion of Islam. Women have the right to choose her life-partner [sic]. She has the right of ownership and inheritance. She has the right of acquiring knowledge and work. . . . in a balanced way in which they are neither deprived of their just and legitimate rights nor are their human dignity and Islamic values are jeopardized…

The participants also agreed that the Qatar government, “non-governmental international organizations such as Pugwash” and the UN “continue to support the Afghan peace process.” This is positive, as the Taleban often have been critical of the UN and perceived it as a body mainly reflecting Western interests, or as under US dominance. Also, the Afghan government under Karzai did not want to see any UN role in the peace process.

Almost all Afghans would subscribe to most points in the communiqué – from the need for peace to getting the economy going, to concerns of Daesh spreading to the region, including to Central and South Asia. But this might also be a problem. The general consensus covers deep differences on detail.

. . .  covered gaps . . . 

For example, the general agreement that “in any case, the government of Afghanistan will be an Islamic one” does not reconcile the whole range of opinions about what an “Islamic government” means in practice. The government and many Afghans argue that their country is already called an Islamic Republic, with Islam as the “religion of the state” and a constitution that stipulates that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” At the same time, the constitution contains a whole range of democratic, pluralistic institutions and mechanisms that were not part of political practice during the Taleban’s Islamic Emirate – it existed without any elected bodies. (It needs to be noted that other political forces in Afghanistan reject ‘Western-style’ democracy; see here.) On the other hand, the Taleban at al-Khor did not openly object to the communiqué’s provision that “no party should have a monopoly on power.”

Other consensus points, like education for boys and girls, are clearly under ‘sharia caveat.’ In a statement released a few days after the al-Khor meeting, the Taleban reiterated that they were seeking “a way out for intra-afghan disputes in the light of Quran and Sunnah.” On civilian casualties, the consensus is accompanied, on the part of the Taleban, by accusations that Western and Afghan government forces continue killing civilians. (This is reflected in the communiqué by the phrase that “differences may exist on who bears the main responsibility of these casualties.”) UN reports clearly pinpoint that most – around three quarters – of all civilian casualties are caused by the insurgents. The Taleban contest this and say they find the reports biased, even though UNAMA takes pains to investigate any reports of civilian casualties they receive from the Taleban and adds any substantiated casualties to their figures; in al-Khor the Taleban claimed that currently two of their commanders are under investigation for infringements on killing civilians, but these also need to be transparent. A question reportedly asked from the Taleban present about recent mass abductions of civilians (see AAN analysis here) remained unanswered.

The issue of civilian casualties has been taken up elsewhere recently. It became known that Afghanistan’s then still-acting main peace envoy, Masum Stanakzai (now nominated for the post of defence minister, see AAN reporting here), met former high-ranking Taleban officials in the north-western Chinese city of Urumqi. After that meeting, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua came up with an article blaming the Taleban for “launching indiscriminate attacks.” This can hardly be incidental, given the government’s control over all media in the country.

At least as importantly, the Urumqi meeting shows that the official Taleban refusal to directly talk to Kabul officials is not cast in stone – a glimmer of hope for progress on peace talks. That the meeting took place was confirmed by the former head of the Taleban ‘religious police’ (amr bil-maruf), Mawlawi Qalamuddin, and unnamed diplomats while a Taleban spokesman delivered a denial and a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, less clear-cut, professed she “wasn’t familiar” with the talks. On the Taleban side, former Taleban deputy foreign minister Mullah Abdul Jalil, former Kandahar governor Mullah Muhammad Hassan Rahmani (who had been on the Taleban leadership council) and former interior minister Mullah Abdul Razzaq reportedly attended. All three are based in Pakistan and are said to have good links with the Pakistani intelligence service (who reportedly helped organise the talks) while their exact status in the Taleban movement is unclear. (This also provides the Taleban deniability about contacts with the Afghan government which they officially continue to reject.)

One interesting point in the al-Khor communiqué is found in a statement about neighbouring countries’ ‘interference’ in Afghan domestic affairs. Participants say they understood this as a criticism of the Ghani/Abdullah government’s attempts to push Pakistan, by mobilising its – as called in Pakistan – “all-weather ally” China to push the Taleban to the negotiations table. This was confirmed by Kuchai who was reported as saying: “The Taliban were upset that the Afghan government approached the Pakistanis rather than reaching out to them directly.”

On the same day as the Xinhua statement mentioned above, the Taleban published an article (3) on their website supporting a Chinese mediating role, praising the “expanding power” for its understanding “that the Taliban are a force on the ground, a reality which cannot be ignored” and even waving a carrot at Beijing: that China could “capitalize on the current situation in order to rebuild the Silk Road.” But this praise is not unconditional: The article adds that “China must therefore establish direct contacts with the Taliban and not task other powers” with talking to them – another hint that it does not want to be addressed through Pakistan. It even challenges the leadership in Beijing: “If China truly wants to achieve reconciliation between Kabul and Taliban by playing the role of a mediator, can it for example assure that America and the foreign powers will abide by the decisions [of negotiations] especially if the main demands of the Taliban are enforcement of Shariah and expulsion of foreign troops?”

. . . and disagreements

Apart from the civilian casualties issue, one more fundamental disagreement is clearly spelled out in the communiqué: that there are “different opinions” about the “structure of the political system (and the constitution of Afghanistan)” that “should be discussed in detail.” The Afghan government insists that the Taleban recognise the current constitution while the Taleban insist (as reiterated in al-Khor and in their later published statement but not spelled out in the communiqué) that an all-Afghan “expert” body writes a new one, as the current one was – in the Taleban’s reading – drafted “in the shadow of the B-52 bombers.”

Naturally, as the al-Khor communiqué points out, “the role of foreign forces that are or have been present in Afghanistan were evaluated in different ways (also in relation to the civilian casualties mentioned above).” On the matter of their withdrawal, some participants were calling – and this also went into the communiqué – for “an agreement among Afghan political forces before the departure of the foreign forces.” This indirectly reflects doubts about the defence capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces in case of an on-going insurgency after the last western troops have left, with military aid beyond 2017 unclear.

In their subsequently published al-Khor statement, the Taleban participants made it clear that “reconciliation and withdrawal of foreign forces are linked to each other,” ie the latter has to precede the former (see also here). The same goes for a ceasefire that had been proposed by Qayyum Kuchai but rejected by the Taleban (confirmed to AAN by participants). The Taleban further hold against the Ghani/Abdullah government the fact that it signed the US-Afghan bilateral strategic defence agreement (BSA) and similar one with NATO which extended the deployment of Western troops on Afghan soil: “It must be regretfully said that whenever the Islamic Emirate has moved forward towards peace, it has been practically halted by signings of the so called strategic agreement and security agreement.”

So far, it remains unclear whether, and how much, the positions presented in Qatar and/or agreed in the communiqué reflect a real change of policy on the part of the Taleban or whether they are simply paying lip service to the idea of talking. (The Taleban also must be careful, as they have to keep their own ‘hawks’ on board.) The drastic gap between their stated policy and practical attitude toward the civilian population and its protection is a point in case. While the Taleban, time and again, in their ‘leader’s’ Eid statements and in al-Khor again, claim that they do everything to protect civilians in war, the recent three bomb attacks in Kabul claimed by them alone show this is not the case: in each of these attacks, more uninvolved civilian passers-by were killed than people the Taleban perceive to be (often against international law) ‘legitimate targets’ (more AAN analysis here).

The same goes for their recent attacks on foreign civilians. While they have signalled in earlier statements that they are interested in mutually respectful relations with all countries and being part of the ‘international community,’ and surely must be aware of the socio-economic situation in Afghanistan that necessitates continued international humanitarian and development aid for the Afghan population, they jeopardise these positions by lumping international civilians, even aid workers, in with what they call “the invaders.” If there are no security guarantees, government-funded development programmes might be forced to close down.

Open questions: What about the government . . .

Reports are contradictory on a number of issues discussed in al-Khor and which were not reflected in the final communiqué (or not in detail). One issue is whether the Afghan government was ‘represented’ at the meeting at all (on an individual basis, of course), and if not, why. The names of participants published so far do not indicate participation beyond the two HPC members. And although HPC members are appointed by the president, HPC is not fully a governmental body. It was not clear (or intentionally left ambiguous) whether Kuchai, the president’s uncle who is also rumoured to be a candidate for the chairmanship of the HPC (4) went to the meeting on behalf of, or at least with the tacit approval of, the president or – as some told AAN – against his will. It is clear, however, that the Afghan government remains in contact with the hosts of the al-Khor meeting, the government of Qatar – although a next meeting, a trip of president Ghani scheduled for Saturday 30 May had to be postponed because of domestic issues.

According to some sources privy to the preparation of and proceedings at the al-Khor meeting, Masum Stanakzai, the head of the joint secretariat of the HPC and of the government’s ‘peace and reconciliation programme’ (and now nominated as defence minister) had initially been on the list of invitees. Whether he decided not to go because government participation might lend too much perceived ‘weight’ to the talks, or was vetoed by the Taleban, or both is not clear. Pugwash had submitted the list to all participants and apparently allowed room for objections. Participants in the talks said the Taleban repeated their rejection of any direct talks with Kabul. According to one version of events, they feel betrayed; they referred to their support of Ghani during the presidential campaign (AAN, here, and others, here, reported) and claimed there had been an understanding – later broken – that the new president would not sign the BSA.

Furthermore, according to participants, the Taleban and the Hezb participants from the insurgent wing demanded that an interim government be formed, because (as put in the Taleban statement) “in the presence of foreign forces, an independent government cannot be formed in Afghanistan.” (The intended timing was unclear, whether immediately before or after the withdrawal of all foreign forces.) This, of course, would signal that both of the main insurgent groups do not consider the current political set-up legitimate or do not want to be seen to be recognising it as legitimate; therefore, they want to discuss the future political system and constitution, as stated in the communiqué.

All in all, the different Taleban statements at al-Khor and published on their website alone are highly inconsistent on one key issue: their willingness to talk directly with the Afghan government. The Afghan government, on its part, signalled goodwill before the meeting by not blocking the meeting. This is a positive difference from the Karzai government’s stance of trying to monopolise all Taleban contacts and actively shut down any channel of contact that it was not part of or did not control.

. . . and what about elections?

Media reports (here and here) said the Taleban, for the first time, had shown “openness for the idea of elections” (or even had “explicitly agreed” to them). Participants AAN spoke to remember this discussion differently; some say the term ‘elections’ was not explicitly used but – in the context of the insurgents’ demand for a new constitution – a “popular consultation” and decision “by the people’s vote” were mentioned. Also if an interim government was set up at some point, a process would still be needed to convert from such a temporary body to a permanent, fully legitimate one. In the tradition of Afghan Islamic political groups, the ‘people’s opinion’ also can be obtained through indirect means, for example by a shura of representatives of different factions – similar to the Shura-ye Hal o Aqd organised during the mujahedin rule in the 1990s.

Direct, multi-party elections do not figure in the Taleban’s worldview. They rarely use this term in their documents, do not consider themselves a political party and have never set up a structure like Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland that acted as the political arm of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). (The Taleban’s political commission is a sub-structure of the Shura-ye Rahbari, the movement’s leadership council, also referred to as the Quetta shura, which is military and political at the same time.) In their (already quoted) statement, they speak about an “Afghan-inclusive Islamic system of life … where all the people and tribes [but note, not parties] are represented.” In contrast, Hezb-e Islami, in its 2010 peace plan (AAN analysis here), in general, suggested elections, although open only to “Islamic parties.” (Whether the party – which is known for its ever-shifting positions – considers that plan still valid is unclear.)

The role of Hezb at the al-Khor talks itself was as ambiguous as ever. Among the participants were found both individuals from the wing that is officially registered and politically active in Afghanistan, filling high-ranking positions in the previous and current governments, and individuals from the one that continues to fight this very government. The Kabul-based wing (represented in al-Khor by HPC vice chairman Ataullah Ludin, governor of Nangrahar province until recently) has officially distanced itself from the insurgent wing (led by the party’s founder and still active leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and represented in al-Khor by deputy party leader Ghairat Bahir and a party spokesman, Qarib-ur-Rahman Said). (5) Yet Ludin, and Qutbuddin Helal – a former Hekmyatyar deputy who ran in the 2014 presidential elections – sat together with Bahir and Said on one side of the table, next to the Taleban, choosing not to represent government ideas. To several other participants, they looked like a single delegation, and made the party ‘split’ look more like Clausewitz tactics: “March separately, strike jointly.”


The configuration of the al-Khor meeting had some other shortcomings. That the organisers coordinated the list of invitees with them beforehand is usual practice. But in effect, it gave the Taleban a veto over who would be with them at the table. This, however, was only possible because the ‘other side’ – politicians of different parties and backgrounds and a small number of civil society activists – were insufficiently prepared for the meeting and had not coordinated among themselves. As one participant told AAN, the Taleban were much better prepared, presenting their positions on apparently assigned topics one by one, which took the other participants by surprise.

The civil society people (and the three women involved) apparently had not coordinated within their existing structures – at previous international Afghanistan conferences, for example, civil society delegates were elected, and involved non-Kabulis. If that had been done, the civil society people would have had more legitimacy and political weight and could have equipped themselves with ideas, concepts and positions towards peace talks that have already been discussed. These include how to combine top-down peace negotiations with local, bottom-up initiatives and a sufficient inclusion of women. Only one women with some political clout was at al-Khor, a former journalist and MP, Malalai Shinwari, who later worked as a government official. The other two were reported to be very young, said nothing at the gathering and have not been publicly named.

There are also no institutionalised mechanisms to guarantee that ideas of inclusion promoted by women and other civil society organisations, if and when the Afghan government should join such talks, will be integrated into its negotiating strategy. Another problem was that many of the political factions who were asked to send representatives are not functioning in a democratic way, so that their leaders are the ones who are approached with invitations and who decide who is to attend on their behalf. This lack of legitimacy of the civil society activists may have contributed to he fact that the participants from Kabul apparently did not challenge the Taleban much on issues where there was a gap between Taleban words and deeds.

And another point: significant sectors in civil society and some factions would prefer not to talk – or ultimately share power – with the Taleban at all. They hope that the Afghan armed forces will still be able to achieve what up to 140,000 Western forces, plus Afghans were unable to do: defeat the insurgents with military means. This is understandable, given their personal experiences with the Taleban regime and the movement’s current approach to the civilian population – and expectations that negotiations might result not only in compromises but also in reversals of hard-won gains achieved over the past 14 years, particularly in the rights sector.

Follow-up moves

But there are some signs of hope, too. The al-Khor participants from Kabul now seem to have started to come together to prepare for the next round. One participant who has initiated meetings for better coordination among the non-insurgent participants says he is hopeful that the group might be able to soften the Taleban’s rejection of talking to the government directly. At the moment, however, Afghanistan’s non-governmental groups are not sufficiently prepared to face the Taleban even at talks, during a competition of ideas.

This is where the international community can – and should – come in. Not with plans and suggestions of its own, but with encouragement and – if necessary – specific funding to make sure particularly the civil society side consolidates and enters the coming meeting better prepared. In the end, if and when negotiations find a positive outcome, the international community will have to act as a guarantor anyway. The presence of UNAMA representatives keeps the door open for indirect Kabul-Taleban talks that could move a peace process forward.

Immediately after the talks, media reports said that the HPC has taken steps to delete more Taleban from the UN sanctions list. Any official request to the UN Security Council needs to come from the Afghan government – and would be another indication how much buy-in to the Qatar talks there is in the administration, despite the Taleban’s (so far) inflexible position towards it.

(1) This ‘intra-Afghan track II dialogue’ was defined by the UN as “trying to engage and provide platform for Afghan people, representatives of different groups, civil society, political parties and also those that are fighting the Government, a platform on which they can discuss their future.”

(2) For example, one report said – after the al-Khor meeting – that the president’s uncle, who participated in al-Khor, held meetings with Taleban representatives before the al-Khor meeting.

(3) The Taleban websites has the follwing categories of content (among others): {official) “statements,” and apparently less official “weekly analysis” and “articles.”

(4) The HPC is supposed to be ‘reformed’ and made leaner, ie downsized from its current membership of 70. This has been confirmed to AAN by HPC members.

(5) Some reports had a third Hezb-e Islami (Hekmatyar) participant, Qazi Hakim (see for example here).


(Likely incomplete) List of participants

(sources: ToloNews, here and here; The News; Express Tribune; Taleban website)

Participants from Kabul:

▪ Abdullah Walwalji (Uzbek; writer and civil society activist; links to Jombesh but independent-minded)

▪ Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi (eastern Pashtun; former finance minister and former head Chef of Afghan Mellat party)

▪ Assadullah Saadati (Hazara, MP from Daykundi, close to former Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili’s Hezb-e Wahdat faction)

▪ Ataullah Ludin, (Pashtun from Nangrahar; deputy chairman High Peace Council; Hezb-e Islami);

▪ Atta ul-Rahman Salim (Tajik; former deputy minister for hajj and awqaf; nominee of former interior minister Yunos Qanuni);

▪ Fahim Hakim (civil society activist; former member of the Independent Human Rights Commission)

▪ Ghulam Faruq Azam (Kandahari Pashtun; former deputy leader of the mujahedin party led by Pir Gailani, minister in the former 1990s mujahedin government and leader of his own peace initiative)

▪ Haji Ruhollah (Pashtun from Kunar or Nuristan, former leader of a small Wahhabi group and Guantanamo detainee, released in 2008)

▪ Malalai Shinwari (Pashtun from Nangrahar; reportedly close to ex-president Karzai)

▪ Qayyum Kuchai (Pashtun from Logar; uncle of the President)

▪ Seyyed Ishaq Gailani (Pashtun/Seyyed from the southeast; former MP, leader of a small political party)

▪ Shahzada Shahed (eastern Pashtun; HPC spokesman);

▪ Wahidullah Shahrani (Uzbek; former mining minister under Karzai)

▪ Two more women who did not speak

▪ A few Afghan businessmen, brought by different participants


▪ Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanakzai (Pashtun from Logar; deputy head of the Political Commission; former health minister)

▪ Shahabuddin Delawar (Pashtun; former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, later in Pakistan)

▪ Suhail Shahin (Pashtun; spokesman of the Qatar office, former editor-in-chief of the Kabul Times)

▪ Qari Din Muhammad Hanif (Tajik from Badakhshan; former planning minister)

▪ Abdul Salam Hanafi (Uzbek; former deputy education minister)

▪ Jan Muhammad Madani (Pashtun; former ambassador to the UAE)

▪ Seyyed Rassul Halim Nangrahari (Pashtun; religious scholar who had no government position during the Taleban regime)

▪ Hafez Aziz-ul-Rahman (former diplomat to the UAE)

More biographic details about the Taleban participants in this AAN dispatch.

Hezb-e Islami:

▪ Ghairat Bahir (from Hekmatyar’s wing; Hekmatyar’s son-in-law and deputy party chairman)

▪ Qarib-ur-Rahman Said (from Hekmatyar’s wing; party spokesman, now Oslo-based spokesman for Northern Europe)

▪ Qutbuddin Helal (another former deputy party leader under Hekmatyar; returned to Afghanistan in 2014)

(see also Ludin, above)


Senior and second political officer, UNAMA

Acting head of human rights department, UNAMA

A former senior political officer of UNAMA

Ambassador of Sweden

Professor Paolo Cotta Ramusino (the Secretary-General of the Pugwash Conference)


Afghan government Hezb-e Islami peace talks Pugwash Conference Qatar Taleban