Victims’ families demand representation in peace talks with Taliban

In a protest rally held Saturday, August 15, in Kabul, families of war victims called for a “direct participation” in the intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taliban group. The protesters called for an immediate ceasefire, assurance of war victims’ rights, and transparency in the peace process.

This call as the long-delayed intra-Afghan talks, scheduled to be held on August 16, was delayed today.

The protesters who gathered under a union titled “National Association of Martyrs Descendants and War Victims” criticized the Afghan peace process. Sada Afghan, spokesperson of the association, said that war victims have the right to participate in peace talks. “We are deeply concerned about the ongoing process for it is very ambiguous and we do not know what the agenda for peace [talks] is. Therefore, the details must be shared with the nation,” said Mr. Afghan who claimed that his cousin was killed around 20 days ago by government forces.

Concerns regarding ambiguity of the peace process and secret agenda in intra-Afghan talks come as the 21-member negotiation team in a meeting with Abdulla Abdullah, Chairperson of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), on Saturday, August 15, stated that they will share “required” details with the public and will share information within framework of a procedure. According to a statement issued by the HCNR, the negotiating team have taken preparation in four separate working committees to talk with the Taliban. The committees will work on preparation for negotiations, its agenda, legal and rights issues, victims and vulnerable groups.

Dunya, mother of seven children, is another protester who lost her husband to a suicide bombing last year in Kabul. She asks the Afghan government not to ignore the victims’ rights in negotiations with the Taliban, noting that the peace talks must bring security and permanent peace in Afghanistan.

Shoayb Ahmad Rashid, whose brother – a member of Afghanistan military – was killed last year in Zabul province, asserts that ensuring victims’ rights must be a top priority on peace agenda. “All the people gathered here have lost one to three members of their families in the war. The gathering is aimed at prioritizing the war victims in the peace issue. We must be given representation in this peace process. We want a transparent process which should not be held behind closed doors,” he denoted.

Though inclusive it seems for political parties, ethnic groups, and women, no member of the government-led negotiating team seems to directly represent war victims. The negotiating team has 21 members who are picked up by political parties and the government.  Thousands, including civilians, have been killed since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan which toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. In its mid-year report, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented an overall 3,458 civilian casualties (1,282 killed and 2,176 wounded) across Afghanistan from January 01 to June 30, 2020. Though the government does not release exact and regular figures on casualty of Afghan defense and security forces, earlier in 2019 President Ghani acknowledged that more than 45,000 security forces were killed since he rose to power in 2014. In an op-ed published on the Washington Post last Friday, he said that 12,279 Afghan security forces and civilians were killed in attacks by the Taliban and associated terrorist groups over past five months.

Breshna, who comes from the eastern Kunar province, lost four members of her family to the war last year. The four victims were all members of Afghanistan army who were killed in Faryab and Kunar provinces. “We must be present in negotiations as representative of the martyrs’ families,” she said, criticizing that the victims’ families were not given any opportunity while 400 prisoners of the Taliban who have committed serious crimes would be released.

Breshna says she has lost four members of her family to war over last one year.

On the other hand, Afghan women from across 15 provinces have called on the government to promote a meaningful presence of women in peace related events. They further called on the Taliban to include Afghan women in their negotiating teams and other peace related events held by the group.

What causes delay in intra-Afghan talks?

According to US-Taliban peace deal signed on February 29, the intra-Afghan talks was set for March 10 after release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 prisoners of the Afghan government kept by the militant group. The intra-Afghan talks, however, has been delayed due to differences between the Afghan government and the Taliban. At times, it even spurred the US to exert direct and indirect pressure on the government to set back and fulfill Taliban demands for accelerating the peace process.

Under US pressure, the government released three Haqqani prisoners, including Anas Haqqani, in exchange for two foreign nationals who were kept by the Taliban.   

A day after the consultative Loya Jirga was convened—the national assembly which approved release of 400 Taliban prisoners—,Afghanistan state run television, RTA World, reported that first round of intra-Afghan talks will be held on August 16 in Doha, capital of Qatar. However, recent remarks by Suhail Shaheen, spokesperson for Taliban’s office in Doha, and Najia Anwari, spokesperson of the State Ministry for Peace, suggest that there is not yet a date set for start of intra-Afghan talks.

Talking to Kabul Now, Shaheen told that start of intra-Afghan negotiations has been postponed for the Afghan government has not yet released all the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners.

Ms. Anwari said that the official release process of the remaining 320 Taliban prisoners is underway and the date for start of the negotiations will be set once the process is complete. Of the 400 prisoners, the government have hitherto released 80 prisoners.

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