HCNR advisor says he hopes ‘meaningful’ peace talks will resume soon

Former Afghan Minister of the Economy and current Special Representative and Senior Advisor at the High Council for National Reconciliation Mustafa Mastoor said on Tuesday that he hopes the stalled peace talks will resume soon and that negotiations this time around need to be more meaningful.

Participating in an Atlantic Council webinar on Tuesday on the latest developments in Kabul related to the ongoing peace process, Mastoor said Afghanistan is now facing its new reality as foreign troops withdraw and that in line with this and with the increase in violence there is now no time to lose around the peace process.

“It’s already late. It’s already too slow and we have to move ahead as soon as possible.”

He also said Afghanistan needs to have the right messaging and that the country needs to manage expectations.

According to him, the Afghan Republic’s negotiating team was “not that much engaged” and that there had been issues that could have been handled better.

He said different political factions which are active in the country “have their own efforts and also interests as well and this is what a republic is made of. And we have to listen to them and we have to engage them in the process and we have to have their contribution in the peace process as well.”

However he said he did not see that there were “big issues with the political factions” and that different views are normal.

Referring to US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s proposal on an interim government a few months back, Mastoor said that all factions had presented their views on this issue and that government welcomed the input.

He said these views, along with President Ashraf Ghani’s proposal on the roadmap for peace will be combined and presented at the next level of negotiations “when we have it with the Taliban”.

He said that Taliban had not “said no” to the Istanbul Conference that had been scheduled for early last month but that the group had “remained silent”.

However, according to him, the Afghan Republic expects negotiations to resume soon.

Mastoor said he had good meetings Tuesday in Washington DC and that his meetings will continue on how to facilitate a speedy restart to stalled peace talks and to start more meaningful negotiations where the main framework can be discussed.

He said while the Doha process was a good one, albeit it slow, the process now needs to be “fast-tracked”.

In addition, general principles first need to be agreed to and then later discussions must be held on how to transition from the main framework agreement to the full implementation of the agreement but added urgent progress needs to be made in the peace process in order to save lives amid high levels of violence.

Mastoor dispelled reports that the new Supreme State Council could wind up becoming an interim government and said negotiations first need to be held on the general framework and then later on an “interim setup”.

On the issue of militias being formed within the country in a bid for “survival”, Mansoor said there are groups and individuals who benefit from conflict but at the moment the majority of Afghans, including politicians, and government, thinks that peace and a political settlement is the only option.

He also said in his opinion the Taliban and its supporters have come to the conclusion that the continuation of the war might not be the best option and that he is sure the group would prefer a political solution.

Mastoor said he thinks the Taliban realize that they will not be able to control by force especially as they now have limited financing sources.

According to him, he thinks the Taliban do however want the upper hand in negotiations but still have a political settlement.

He said resistance, on the part of the public, once troops have withdrawn would be the worst case scenario. However he added that the Afghan government does have to be prepared for every scenario but that “at this time we are focusing on peace”.

Mansoor meanwhile said that over the past few years it has been noticed that the Taliban in the field generates their own finances. He said they finance themselves through narcotics, mining or taxing the people and that they are not dependent on the leaders of the group in Quetta, Pakistan or Doha, Qatar.

He stated that in line with this the Taliban cannot control a reduction in violence. However, the Taliban in Doha and Quetta are united “and say the same thing” but the “Taliban in the field more or less is independent and we have to have an eye on their interests in the whole peace process,” he said.