KABUL: Parties to the Afghan conflict were all smiles during the inaugural ceremony of the historic intra-Afghan talks on Saturday as the Taliban assured that a ceasefire was part of the agenda and that the peace negotiations were aimed at ceasing violence and resolving outstanding issues through dialogue.
Meanwhile, Chief Negotiator for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mohammad Masoom Stanikzai said the gathering of inauguration made them optimistic about peace as he emphasized on the fact that Afghan institutions and security forces must be further strengthened.
Farahnaz Forotan, a journalist contributing to Afghan Peace Watch (APW), briefly interviewed and asked queries of various stakeholders on the sidelines of the historic event in order to elicit their stance and views on the peace talks ahead.
Abdul Salam Hanafi, Taliban negotiating team member, addressing a question about armistice said it was a key topic to be discussed in the talks.
He said the talks wouldn’t be difficult if all sides showed a strong will and determination, adding that the insurgent group was committed to completely end the war in Afghanistan.
To a question posed on the continuing violence in the country, Hanafi said as a peace deal was only signed with the US, this very launch of the intra-Afghan talks was exactly for the purpose of “resolving outstanding differences among the warring through dialogue.”
Meanwhile, asked about the issue of war victims, Suhail Shaheen, the ex-spokesman for the Taliban’s Qatar political office and a member of the group’s negotiating team, said this matter was naturally going to be taken into account during the peace talks.
“About 70% of the Afghan territory is under our writ,” he claimed, adding “Our people have rendered numerous sacrifices and they have been victimized. This issue is part of the all-Afghan negotiations and it will be discussed. But only time will tell what decision would be made in this regard.”
However, as per recent figures by the Long War Journal (LWJ) – which is a project run by the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank – released this year, the Taliban commands merely 20 percent of the country’s territory.
Shaheen said before anything else, the aim was to put an end to the war and bring peace because “it’s the demand of the war victims and the Afghan people, as well as ours.”
Similarly, speaking to journalists, Mohammad Masoom Stanikzai, the chief negotiator of Afghanistan’s negotiation team, said the gathering of inauguration made them optimistic about peace and that they felt hopeful about the Taliban’s spirit regarding peace.
“There were four points extremely important in all the remarks expressed. First, there was a show of clear determination from the Afghan government side that we are committed to peace, that we have come here for that purpose, and are working for it. But all that for an Afghanistan that possessed peace, sovereignty, unity, democracy, and preserved those gains that we have achieved so far. Institutions and security forces must be further strengthened. These are all the things that the Afghan people want.”
He emphasized that the second point was ceasing war while the sides were engaged in peace talks, adding “thirdly, the Taliban also showed their determination; it was different from the past when there used to be accusations and was more focused on achieving peace through a political settlement.”
On the other hand, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan Gen. Scott Miller also spoke to Forotan, dubbing the initiation of talks as a historic and important day and a great opportunity for the Afghan people.
“As I was talking to my service members yesterday, I think it’s an opportunity that the Afghan people deserve. It’s historic in terms of bringing everybody together and now we are getting through to what we believe is going to be a difficult part – resolving the issues that have kept the country at war,” he concluded.
It’s pertinent to mention that the long-anticipated intra-Afghan peace negotiations officially began in Doha, the capital of Qatar, on Saturday in the presence of international representatives and dignitaries.
The direct intra-Afghan negotiations are expected to launch since Sunday and probably span over several rounds and months.
It’s the first-ever time in history that talks are taking place between the Afghan government and the Taliban face-to-face without mediators.
Farhanaz Forotan is a member of the Board of Trustees at Afghan Peace Watch (APW) and a seasoned Afghan journalist.