Politics, Security, Peace Talks and Prospects
Afghanistan has spent another year in the shadow of volatile security situation, crumbling economic conditions, unpredictable political environment and scarcity of resources, as well as some new developments that have created hopes for a comparatively stable Afghanistan in the year 2019.
Among those few new developments, the most important one is the holding of parliamentary elections in the month of October 2018, through biometric voting process. In response to long delays and widespread operational difficulties, the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan extended voting in some polling centres for an additional day. These elections, however, witnessed violence at its peak on the polling day, resulting in the highest number of civilian casualties in a single day in 2018. Due to severely unstable security situation, elections in Kandahar province were delayed for one week following the death of two high-ranking security officials in an attack claimed by the Taliban. Leaders of different political parties and independent candidates began negotiations to nominate their candidates for the upcoming presidential elections, which were originally scheduled for April 2019, but were later postponed to July 20.
Appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as the United States Special Representative on Afghanistan Reconciliation reinvigorated peace efforts wherein the Taliban finally agreed to hold direct talks with the United States. The Russian Federation also hosted an international meeting on Afghanistan which was attended by representatives of different countries, the High Peace Council of Afghanistan and the Taliban political office. Moreover, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan remained comparatively cordial.
Preparations on governmental level accelerated ahead of the Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan that was held on 28th November 2018. But, the situation remained still grave, characterized by high levels of displacement, an increase in conflict-related trauma cases, and drought-like conditions, raising the level of food insecurity for millions of Afghans throughout the war-torn country. The return of refugees from the Islamic Republic of Iran continued at a greater pace, putting further pressure on scarce resources in western Afghanistan.
In political arena, Afghanistan’s pursuit of a negotiated peace settlement with the Taliban received an added impetus when Mr Khalilzad visited Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with a mission to muster regional support for the Afghan peace process. However, Afghan government seemed reluctant to support direct contact between the United States and the Taliban. On 5th November, President Ghani announced that a national consultation board on the peace process would be formed with representatives nominated by civilian and military authorities in all the 34 provinces. The Taliban spokesperson also confirmed that Mr Khalilzad had met with the Taliban Political Commission in Doha, Qatar.
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