Saturday, December 16, 2017

Afghanistan eyes peace plan that gives Pakistan, Taliban bigger roles

WASHINGTON — The Afghan government is pursuing an ambitious new peace initiative in which Pakistan would replace the United States in arranging direct talks between the warring sides and the Taliban would be granted government posts that effectively could cede to them political control of their southern and eastern strongholds.

If implemented, the plan would diminish the role of the United States in the peace process but would still leave Washington with input on a number of critical issues, including the terms for initiating negotiations. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Great Britain also would be involved.

The plan envisions ending the war by 2015 through a ceasefire and negotiations in the second half of next year, most likely in Saudi Arabia. Pakistan would help select the leaders of the Taliban and other rebel groups who would take part in the negotiations with the Afghan government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai would continue to have a role in the peace process after the end of his term following April 2014 elections.

Another provision would give the insurgents a voice on "issues related … to the withdrawal" of the U.S.-led NATO force by the end of 2014.

The plan foresees the United States working with Kabul and Islamabad in determining which insurgent leaders would participate. The United States also would be critical to approving the removal of the insurgent negotiators from the U.N.'s list of terrorists.

Titled Peace Process Roadmap to 2015, the blueprint represents a decision by Karzai — in close coordination with Pakistan — to assume the lead in peace-making efforts following the collapse earlier this year of an Obama administration bid to persuade the Taliban to participate in direct talks with Kabul.

The new initiative comes amid persistent distrust between Karzai and the Obama administration and deep insecurity in Kabul over future U.S. support.

The plan also comes as the ongoing U.S. combat troop pullout and cuts in U.S. financial aid to Afghanistan are fueling fears in both countries that violence and instability could worsen, spurring them to take matters into their own hands.

The blueprint, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy, officially is the work of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, which is charged with overseeing government peace efforts. But it was drafted by Karzai and his inner circle over the past six months in coordination with Pakistan, McClatchy Newspapers reported it learned from a person it said was familiar with the document.

The plan was presented to Pakistan and the United States during visits last month by High Peace Council chairman Salahuddin Rabbani, who was named by Karzai to the post after Rabbani's father, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated in May 2011.

The State Department declined to comment on the plan, refusing even to confirm its existence.

The Afghan Embassy did not respond to a request to discuss the plan.

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