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    Outlook for Peace
    Four-nation meetings advance the peace process in Afghanistan
    By Bai Shi | NO. 7 FEBRUARY 18, 2016

    Afghan security forces rush to a blast site near the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad in east Afghanistan on January 13. At least seven people, including four police personnel, were killed in the attack (XINHUA)

    A meeting involving representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States held on January 11 in Islamabad, Pakistan, established the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) to further the peace process in Afghanistan.

    The group met a week later in Kabul, Afghanistan, where the delegates issued a joint statement calling on the Taliban to join the peace process and announced that progress had been made on a roadmap for peace talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.

    Ma Xiaolin, a professor of international studies at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, told Beijing Review  that the meetings signified new international efforts to restart the peace and reconciliation process in the war-torn country.

    Important consensus 

    Participants of the QCG have reached a consensus on key principles to promote peace talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban, said Fu Xiaoqiang, Director of the Security and Arms Control Department under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

    In an interview with China.org.cn, a Beijing-based Internet news portal, he said that the four-nation talks once again offered an endorsement of the Afghan Government led by President Ashraf Ghani. According to him, the countries have agreed to maintain and consolidate the Afghan Government and ensure its dominant role in the peace process.

    The security situation in Afghanistan remains unstable, and the peace process has been stalled since 2004. The Afghan Government, though it is backed by the United States and NATO, struggles in the face of a sustained threat from the Taliban. Peace talks between the two sides have been full of twists and turns.

    The Afghan Government and international community have repeatedly called on the Taliban to participate in peace talks. In September 2010, the government set up the Afghanistan High Peace Council to seek negotiations with the Taliban.

    But the Taliban refused to enter into peace talks, claiming that the withdrawal of foreign troops is a prerequisite for joining the negotiations. Moreover, Taliban militants have continued to attack military and civilian targets, including those working for the peace council. The peace efforts were frustrated once more when former Afghan President and Chairman of the High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was killed by the Taliban in a bomb attack in Kabul on September 20, 2011.

    However, the Afghan Government and the Taliban have maintained unofficial contact, and the situation changed when Ghani assumed office as Afghanistan's president in September 2014. Ghani extended the olive branch by conceding that the Taliban has the right to participate in the political process of peace and national reconciliation. Throughout 2015, the two sides enhanced their contact. On July 8, 2015, the Afghan Foreign Ministry announced that the government had held a formal meeting with delegates of the Taliban in Islamabad. The statement said that both sides expressed a willingness to create conditions to initiate a peace and reconciliation process. A second round of talks were planned but were suspended in late July when the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar was confirmed.

    Fu said that the peace roadmap drawn by the QCG represents an important step forward to realizing stability in Afghanistan. "With the Taliban split following the death of Omar, the international community must seize this chance to bring the Taliban into the peace talks. The talks need external support, but any help must adhere to an Afghan-led and -owned political process, which is the only path to fulfill lasting peace in the country," he noted.

    Actually, the international community has offered Afghanistan considerable aid for its development, and 14 countries established the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan in 2011, which has become an important multilateral platform for promoting peace in the country. By the end of 2015, the Istanbul Process had convened five rounds of meetings.

    A hard nut to crack  

    However, the quadrilateral mechanism has some critical challenges to tackle.

    "It is essential to persuade the Taliban to join the peace process, forming five-party talks," Ma said. "But it will be a hard task for the four governments. Although the Taliban has agreed to participate in negotiations with the government, its attitude toward peaceful solutions remains ambiguous."

    The Taliban has launched more attacks since Omar's deputy Mullah Akhtar Mansour took over as its leader. In the last six months, Mansour started a series of offensives against the Afghan Government. Particularly, the suicide bomb killing 20 people in Kabul on February 1 has cast a shadow over efforts for peace talks.

    Ma believes that these deadly attacks by the Taliban were an attempt to strengthen Mansour's leadership and gain a stronger bargaining position in any possible talks with the government and international community.

    "If the Taliban joins in the peace process, it will give rise to a complicated question as to how the radical Islamic group will participate in politics in future," Ma said. "Most of the political thinking advocated by the Taliban does not conform to contemporary governance and law that the Afghan Government has adopted. Narrowing the wide gap between the two sides will be a tough job for all parties in the talks."

    In addition to peace, Afghanistan also needs to revive its economy. International observers have blamed widespread poverty for the prevalence of terrorism in the country. With considerable earnings from drug production and trafficking, many extremist groups have the means to recruit followers and purchase weapons.

    The Afghan Government must enhance efforts to develop the economy and improve living standards of the people, in order to eradicate the conditions that allow terrorism to thrive, Ma said. He also suggested the international community provide more aid to help the country realize a sustainable development.


    China's Special Envoy for Afghanistan Deng Xijun attends the second meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 18 (XINHUA)

    China's role 

    From the Istanbul Process to the QCG, China has played an increasingly important role in mediating issues in Afghanistan.

    With growing status in the world, China is willing to contribute more to solving regional and world problems. In the light of the schedule for U.S. troops' withdrawal, China is fully aware of the importance of maintaining peace and stability in Afghanistan. In October 2014, China hosted the fourth ministerial conference of the Istanbul Process. It also appointed a special envoy on the Afghan issue in the same year and has hosted a number of Afghanistan-focused bilateral and multilateral consultations.

    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said on many occasions that China backs an Afghan-led and -owned peace process, which is also accepted by all sides in the four-nation talks.

    It is appropriate for China to be a mediator in the Afghan issue, Ma said in an earlier interview with the Beijing Youth Daily  newspaper.

    Following the second meeting of the QCG, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani visited Beijing on January 26. During the meeting with Wang, Rabbani said that Afghanistan appreciates and thanks China for its important and constructive role in the peace, reconstruction and reconciliation process.

    "China's support consolidated the determination and confidence of the Afghan Government and people in advancing the peace process," Rabbani said in Beijing.

    China offers a trustworthy guarantee for the peace process in Afghanistan and ensures that it could be implemented transparently and fairly, Ma said, adding that China's participation gives more impetus to the peace talks.

    Copyedited by Calvin Palmer

    Comments to baishi@bjreview.com

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