Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Kabul hopeful for 2019 ceasefire after Abu Dhabi peace talks

Indirect meetings between Kabul officials and Taliban in Abu Dhabi this week discussed potential confidence-building measures

Afghan Ambassador to the UAE Abdul Farid Zikria speaks to The National in Abu Dhabi on December 20, 2018. Victor Besa / The National
Afghan Ambassador to the UAE Abdul Farid Zikria speaks to The National in Abu Dhabi on December 20, 2018. Victor Besa / The National

The Afghan government hopes to reach a ceasefire agreement with the Taliban next year, Afghanistan's ambassador to the UAE has told The National following peace talks in Abu Dhabi this week.

While Afghan officials and the Taliban never met face-to-face, United States officials and a Taliban delegation discussed a potential prisoner exchange and ceasefire as confidence-building measures that could eventually lead to peace.

The talks, which aimed to kick-start negotiations to end the 17-year war, concluded on Wednesday and were “mostly encouraging”, according to Ambassador Abdul Farid Zikria.

A second round of talks in Abu Dhabi is scheduled for January, with a third planned for later next year.

“We do expect more tangible results in the next meeting,” Amb Zikria said. “During the next meeting if we could even achieve the exchange of prisoners that would be a positive outcome, and then we can have a ceasefire at the third meeting.”

While no details had been finalised, the possibility of a prisoner exchange and a ceasefire remained “on the table” he said.

The UAE has taken a lead role in facilitating peace talks, with Saudi Arabia and US also represented. Led by chief negotiator Abdul Salam Rahimi, the Taliban met with officials from these countries and Pakistan.

Talliban and Kabul representatives did not meet but demands were conveyed from both ends, with the intermediary countries working on managing expectations.

“We expressed to them what we would like to achieve out of this process and basically the same thing with Taliban,” Amb Zikria said.

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On Monday, US officials proposed a six-month ceasefire and an agreement to include Taliban representatives in a future caretaker government. The proposition was resisted by the Taliban, who believe a ceasefire would damage their cause and help US and Afghan forces.

Earlier this week, Taliban officials said their “extensive rounds of meetings” with US officials had focussed on the withdrawal of American troops.

But the withdrawal of foreign forces would have to form part of a broader solution, Amb Zikria said. “The withdrawal will be part of the peace-package. Once there is a ceasefire, once they accept to come talk about peace and come back to Afghanistan from where they are right now, then the issue of foreign troops can be resolved.”

The ambassador said he does not expect a permanent presence of foreign forces in the country. He welcomed the prospect of negotiations replacing fighting.

“Rather than using guns on each other, come talk to us,” he said. “We are very proud people and we’ve always fought the invaders so obviously we don’t want other forces to be in Afghanistan, even though we’re thankful of the help they’ve given us so far. There will be an end to their presence in Afghanistan but it should come in a total package for peace.”

Pakistan continues to play a significant role in the peace talks. Recently-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan says his country “will be doing everything within its power to further the peace process.”

Amb Zikria welcomed Islamabad’s involvement, saying: “We understand that Pakistan can do a lot and we’re hoping for the new government… to use that leverage to hopefully bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan.”

The Kabul government remains committed to holding presidential elections next year, despite threats by the Taliban to disrupt the process.

Updated: December 21, 2018 10:10 AM

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