In a major development in the Afghan peace process, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has named 48 members for the formation of the High National Reconciliation Council (HNRC) through a presidential decree. The council mandated with taking peace talks ahead with the Taliban is part of a power-sharing agreement signed in May between President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah Abdullah, who leads HNRC. The decree comes as the peace talks have hung in the balance for a while now due to differences over prisoner release despite Abdullah recently saying that the intra-Afghan talks would begin by the end of this week but it wasn’t long before the Taliban rejected that possibility altogether. Forming the council is a positive development and something that would help the snail-paced peace process but it, however, has many shortcomings. First and foremost, the inclusivity as a key principle isn’t taken into consideration.
The list of members released mainly features and focuses on an array of government figures and Jihadi leaders and thus the public has shown a strong backlash against lack of youth in the formation of the council. Some of them have taken to social media, saying everything is the same old, same old and those people couldn’t necessarily represent and address the demands of the young people in Afghanistan.
In the meantime, it seems most of the members are probably not consulted on their membership, signifying that the decision is either a hasty one or made under pressure. Former President Hamid Karzai, who is also named as a member of the council, shortly after the decree refused to be part of any government structure. In a statement, Karzai’s office said that as a citizen he “will continue his efforts to bring peace” to Afghanistan.
Moreover, the council is separate from a 21-member negotiating team, which Ghani appointed in March and which is expected to travel to Qatar for intra-Afghan talks. The negotiating team doesn’t have a final say in talks and that is where this council comes into the picture to decide on the points that the negotiating team takes up with the Taliban. On the other hand, the Taliban recently appointed just one 20-member negotiating team that has the authority to make final decisions and then directly answer to the insurgents’ supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada.
Therefore, it’s a disappointment that the Afghan nation isn’t still fully represented and satisfied even though a council this huge is being established. Although the decree asks religious scholars, Parliament, private sector, provincial councils and media to introduce their picks for the membership of the council’s general assembly within a week, that doesn’t suffice so long as there are no youth and women in the leadership and decision-making roles. Considering that the negotiations with the Taliban are going to be protracted and uncertain, having a complete consensus – not just political but national – is key for the success of this undertaking which should address the needs and demands of people from all walks of life.