All-Afghan summit ends in plan for roadmap to peace
Joint statement could put parties on path to ending almost two decades of war
A conference that united some of Afghanistan’s warring sides appears to have taken the country a step closer to peace after almost two decades of conflict.
The Taliban, politicians and members of Afghan society, including prominent women, agreed that a post-war state would have an Islamic legal system, protect women’s rights “within Islamic values” and ensure equality for all ethnic groups.
They issued a statement that was finalised late on Monday.
Washington hopes the plan, formed during a two-day meeting in Qatar, will be confirmed by September 1 and allow the withdrawal of US and Nato troops.
Next will come the hard negotiations on details of the deal.
The statement pledged a roadmap based on opening a monitored peace process, the return of internally displaced people and non-interference by regional powers in Afghanistan.
“Assuring women rights in political, social, economic, educational, cultural affairs as per [and] within the Islamic framework of Islamic values,” also appeared in the joint text.
“It’s not an agreement, it’s a foundation to start the discussion,” said delegate Mary Akrami, executive director of the Afghan Women’s Network. “The good part was that both sides agreed.”
The Taliban’s Amir Khan Muttaqi, a former minister during the militant group’s 1996-2001 rule, read a Pashto version of the 700-word statement.
Habiba Sarabi, deputy chair of the Afghan High Peace Council established by former president Hamid Karzai to communicate with the Taliban, read the Dari version.
About 70 delegates attended the gathering at a luxury hotel in Doha. The meeting room erupted into applause after the joint statement was read out shortly before midnight.
The intra-Afghan meetings follow six days of talks between the US and the Taliban, which were put on hold for the two-day conference.
Those discussions will continue on Tuesday as both sides look for a resolution to the conflict.
Washington has said it wants a deal with the Taliban before Afghan presidential polls due in September, to allow foreign forces to start withdrawing.
The US lead negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the latest talks had “been the most productive of the rounds we’ve had with the Talibs”.
“We want a stable Afghanistan,” he said on Monday. “Afghans meeting with the Taliban was a big success.”
The Taliban said they were happy with the progress.
Washington did not take part directly in the two-day Afghan summit, which was attended by political heavyweights, government officials and at least six women.
The Taliban have steadfastly refused to negotiate with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, members of which only took part in a “personal capacity”.
Mr Ghani’s administration, which the Taliban consider a puppet regime, has also been excluded from direct US-Taliban talks.
The gathering on Sunday and Monday was the third such meeting after landmark summits in Moscow in February and May.
The agreement is expected to comprise a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and a commitment by the militants not to offer sanctuary to extremists.
The Taliban’s relationship with Al Qaeda was the main reason for the American invasion almost 18 years ago.
But the issues of power-sharing, the role of regional powers including Pakistan and India, and the fate of Mr Ghani’s administration remain unresolved.
Believing they have the upper hand in the war, the Taliban have kept up attacks while talking to the US and agreeing to the current dialogue.
A car bombing claimed by the militants in eastern Afghanistan killed at least 12 people and wounded scores more on Sunday, police said.
Despite the bloodshed, the Taliban and Washington have been positive about their engagement.
Britain's Foreign Office praised progress during the talks, saying the resolution provides "building blocks for future negotiations".
"We particularly welcome their broad and inclusive nature, which included women, minorities and civil society groups," a Foreign Office spokesman said.
"There is a long way to go but the commitments to reduce violence and avoid civilian casualties can help pave the way towards future common ground."
Updated: July 9, 2019 11:42 PM