Afghanistan: Progress Reported on Women’s issues in Informal Afghan-Taliban Talks

May 6, 2015, by Rod Nordland, 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two days of informal talks between Afghan government and Taliban representatives produced a series of agreements that, while not binding, raised the prospect of advancement in Afghanistan’s long deadlocked peace process, judging from a summary of the talks released by the organizers on Monday.

Both sides agreed that the Taliban should open a political office in Doha,Qatar, which would serve as a place where future negotiations might take place; the government of Afghanistan had previously opposed that. Both agreed that the Constitution of Afghanistan was up for discussion; that had once been a so-called red line for the Afghan government.

The Taliban signaled that they might be willing to drop their demand that all foreign troops, such as the residual American and NATO force of 13,000 trainers and counterterrorism troops, would have to be withdrawn before peace talks could take place.

“In general, the peace process should be speeded up!” read a summary of the talks issued by the Pugwash Conferences, the international organization that hosted them in Qatar on Saturday and Sunday. “Some would welcome the possibility of talks between the Taliban and the government.”

The Taliban also joined with Afghan government figures in committing to education for women, which the Taliban had mostly stamped out during their years in power.

“The value of education for both men and women was underlined by everybody,” the Pugwash summary of the talks said. Pugwash, a Nobel Prize-winning organization that promotes world peace, has hosted several conferences involving indirect talks between the Afghan parties, known as “track two” talks.

This was the first one, however, in which the parties seemed willing to publicize their points of agreement.

While everyone involved emphasized that the talks were among individuals and represented their personal opinions, those present included leading figures from the Taliban ranks, as well as important government officials and allies.

In a separate statement, the Taliban denounced the American role in the country and demanded a withdrawal, but did not appear to make that a precondition for peace talks, as they often have in the past.

“Peace cannot be achieved just in talks and slogans,” the Taliban statement, posted on the group’s website, read. “There is a need for determination and good intentions.” They also appeared to dismiss a role for Pakistan in future talks, criticizing “peace talk offers that are usually made to neighboring countries.”

Pakistan has long allowed the Taliban’s senior leadership to take refuge on its side of the border and has been wary of peace overtures that its government does not control.

“Everybody agreed that foreign forces have to leave Afghanistan soon,” the summary of the talks said. But it added, “Some expressed concern that there should be an agreement among Afghan political forces before the departure of the foreign forces.”

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After Afghanistan fell to the Taliban tens of thousands of Afghans made their way to the United States. They were allowed to stay under a program called “humanitarian parole.” But that status expires in a couple of months, and although they can renew one time, many are calling for Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would allow them to seek more permanent status.