Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to Iran, Abdul Ghafoor Liwal, and Advisor to IRI Foreign Minister on West Asia Affairs Seyed Rasoul Mousavi at a Special Meeting dubbed “Afghanistan Developments: A Glance at Structures,” hosted by the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations (SCFR), on Sunday discussed the latest events in Afghanistan with particular emphasis on the peace talks and Tehran-Kabul relations.

The Afghan ambassador announced that the two countries have settled the water dispute based on the comprehensive document of cooperation, adding: “Fortunately, there is agreement on the issue of water in the comprehensive document.” The basis of the work will be the 1972 Accord to which only one or two amendments would be added.

The key points of the two diplomats’ speeches, which were in part, answering the questions from the participants, is as follows:

Start of Peace Talks, Priority of Future Afghan Government

Emphasizing the importance of the recent Afghan elections, Abdul Ghafoor Liwal said: “We have recently been following the presidential election process in Afghanistan; the results will be announced soon and the winner will form the new government.”

He said the priority of the new government is to start peace talks, especially inter-Afghan talks, noting that the negotiations between the United States and the Taliban that were halted or postponed had three main pivots: the timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops; ensuring that no danger would threaten foreign countries and Afghanistan’s neighbors; and Taliban’s status in Afghanistan’s political future.

Liwal said: These talks, in the last section, referred to inter-Afghan dialogue and were the most important precondition for the Afghan government and people to launch a ceasefire.

The Afghan diplomat said upon a pause in the peace talks, holding the elections was given priority upon the people’s demand and the voting took place. The two leading groups, especially Ashraf Ghani, are committed to launching peace talks as a priority. Hopefully, these negotiations will begin with a ceasefire. However, the issue of Afghanistan also has regional and international dimensions.

 

Iran’s Realistic Policy towards Afghanistan

“In the regional dimension, we see realistic policies, especially from Iran,” said Liwal on Iran’s approach to Afghan developments. “We are grateful for Iran’s policy of declaring that it would not attend any negotiations where the Afghan government is not present. According to Iran, these meetings will not be fruitful in the absence of the Afghan people and government.

The Strong Role of Regional Actors in Afghan Peace

Other countries, such as Russia and China, have been slowly revising their mysterious contacts with the Taliban, the Afghan diplomat continued. The main problem, in the meantime, is Pakistan’s policies towards the Taliban.

He said that there is a major problem with Pakistan over the Taliban and noted: “You are aware of the Afghan government’s recent peace plan that has discussed the ceasefire and the responsible withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan and so on.” Part of the plan is to clarify Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban and to what extent they are.”

Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tehran said Pakistan should respect the national sovereignty of Afghanistan: As our neighbors Iran and China and the three northern neighbors, are in the loop of our relations, we look forward to having excellent relations with everyone.

Preference of Economic Relations over Political, Ideological Relations

Saying that Afghanistan prefers economic relations serving the interests of both sides to any kind of political, ideological, cultural, etc. relationship, he added: “Afghanistan’s capacities are high and it can be a good partner for others. We are the connecting point of three regions and link West Asia and Central Asia.

He said that Afghanistan hoped all effective nations and neighbors would heed Afghanistan’s policy and give up the proxy wars in the country, noting that recent events proved that the continuation of insecurity and war would not benefit anyone and as long as there is no stability in Afghanistan there will be no stability in the neighboring countries and even the world.

Emphasizing that the neighboring countries and the world must understand that they are facing a different country and nation than they were four decades ago, the Afghan diplomat said: A young, educated, intellectual and patriotic generation who understands the issues of national interest, believes in democracy, the principle of republicanism and patriotic values; calls for peace and stability and the promotion of civil values.

The people and country of Afghanistan are not the same as before, and ideological means cannot be invested in Afghanistan. Our greatest asset is this vigilant generation.

Afghanistan’s Political Independence in Foreign Policy

In the second part of the speech, the Afghan diplomat said the main concern in the region was that there would be agreements in the absence of the Afghan people and government, while there is no guarantee that those agreements would be formed under a hollow title called “Islamic Emirate.” Such a title has no content and even means that terrorist threats still continue. The Afghan government is an authority that can guarantee regional peace.

He continued: If the countries of the region want peace not exclusively in the geography of Afghanistan and include other countries, they must pay attention to the principle of the Afghan constitution and the Afghan government because legitimacy must be endogenous.

The Afghan diplomat said no one should decide for Afghanistan in the realm of foreign policy, adding: “If we had let this happen we should have no relations with Iran, but we have had relations with Iran for several millennia and will continue these relations.”

Following the Model of Balance in Relations with India, Pakistan

“We want to have good and friendly relations with India and Pakistan,” Liwal said, adding: We have repeatedly assured Pakistan that good relations with India do not mean hostility to anyone else. No one can oppose the territory of Afghanistan against another.

He said the continued arming of terrorist groups is also a potential threat to Pakistan, he said, noting: The Afghan government and people have sincerely suggested that economic ties with Pakistan would be beneficial to them. Our efforts to reach an agreement with Pakistan have failed. Our talks with Islamabad are aimed at achieving a balance in foreign policy.

The ambassador said that the country has suffered the most from the wars of the last half a century and does not allow others to influence its domestic course. He said: Development of Chabahar Port in Iran and other ports are transit alternatives for Afghanistan are among our foreign policy priorities. We cannot afford to let go of these concerns. These are built and link the Afghan economy with foreign economies.

Afghan Support for Win-Win Policy with Iran

Liwal said: “A comprehensive strategic partnership document between Iran and Afghanistan will be signed soon, covering five areas: economic, water, culture, security and immigrants.” He said in all of these cases, there is agreement, with the exception of one or two cases, on which there are also minor differences. For example, in this document on immigration, basic work has been done to legalize the presence of immigrants.

He noted that the volume of economic cooperation should be well-shaped to the benefit of both countries, adding that the development of the Chabahar port is a window of hope for the Afghan people. A large proportion of the Afghan youth are attending Iranian universities and we will expand our cultural partnership. The two countries agree on major regional policies, and we want good neighborly relations with Iran, and we want a lasting peace in Afghanistan, he stated.

Peaceseeking Precondition for Attending Inter-Afghan Negotiations

“We are facing international terrorists in Afghanistan that we have to get rid of because they have no right to be in Afghanistan,” said Liwal. On the one hand there is the Taliban who are native and have indigenous roots. Talks are also held with the section of the Taliban who want peace and are willing to sit at the negotiation table. On the other side, there is not just the government, but all parties, currents, groups, youth and women. Therefore, inter-Afghan negotiations somehow encompass all segments of the society who want peace, i.e., those who seek the interests of Afghanistan, not the interests of foreign governments.”

End of Water Dispute with Iran

The Afghan ambassador announced that the two countries have settled the water dispute based on the comprehensive document of cooperation, adding: “Fortunately, there is agreement on the issue of water in the comprehensive document.” The basis of the work will be the 1972 Accord to which only one or two amendments would be added. He said there are one or two technical issues which are being solved. There is also a security case which will be settled after the document is signed.

 

Iran’s Policy towards Afghan Peace Negotiations

Advisor to IRI Foreign Minister on West Asia Affairs Seyed Rasoul Mousavi was another speaker at the meeting who started his remarks by elaborating on Iran’s approach to Afghan peace talks. “Iran’s position is not to attend any meeting where the Afghan people and government are not present.  In some cases, this Iranian position has been wrongly taken as Tehran’s absence from the peace talks.”

Referring to quadruple conference on Afghanistan in Russia, he said: A quadripartite meeting was held in Moscow last week with the participation of Russia, Pakistan, the United States and China, and Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister said after the confab that Iran should join the negotiations. Earlier there was also a meeting in Beijing where the Russians had told us to attend, but we announced that we would not attend.

The IRI diplomat continued: Iran believes it will not join a process where the representatives of the Afghan people, namely the government are absent. There is, of course, another view, that in Iran should attend the meetings that Russia and China hold to explicitly voice its stances . In fact, there are two perspectives at present: one not to attend any of the meetings described above, and one to express our views and attitudes at some of the conferences that Russia and China hold and invite Iran.

Difference between Brussels Statement and Khalilzad’s Agreement with Taliban

Mousavi, referring to US-Taliban peace talks, said: “The form of Khalilzad’s talks he has just started is different from the one he had previously applied and stopped after Trump’s tweet about halting the talks with the Taliban.” He went to Brussels last week, and then we saw the release of a 17 point statement that can be described as the West’s Manifesto about Afghanistan. Khalilzad then flew to Moscow to attend the 4-party conference on Afghanistan where the statement was somehow confirmed.

He said that the Brussels Declaration could be the manifesto of peace in Afghanistan, adding: “There is a significant difference between this manifesto and what was being pursued in previous negotiations, which may lead Iran to change its behavior in the next round.” This is due to the change in content that occurred during Khalilzad’s move.

 

Dangerous Aspects of Khalilzad’s First Deal

“We are faced with two plans,” he said. One is the approach and framework designed in Brussels and the other is what Ashraf Ghani announced in Kabul. Perhaps the synthesis of these two plans will determine the process of movement in Afghanistan.

In describing the five features of Khalilzad’s first plan on Afghan peace plan, Mousavi pointed out: If these five features had been fulfilled, it would have been dangerous. I would call it a displacement process, but again a dangerous basis. If we are to reconcile peace and establish stability and friendship among societies, any peace plan must be sustainable and able to eliminate the ground for war. Our definition of peace in Khalilzad’s plan is different from his definition of peace.

He said that the first feature of Khalilzad’s peace was the shifting of the Doha process to the Bonn process, adding: “The Islam Republic of Afghanistan is the creation of the Bonn Process, that is the Bonn talks was the agreement of the international community on the political system in Afghanistan but Khalilzad designed a new system in Doha.

The Doha Process, with a situation that has no characteristic and future, undermined the pillars of the Bonn process. “What happened in Moscow endorsed Khalilzad’s Doha Process while we believe we need to strengthen and endorse the Bonn Process, because the Afghan government structure is designed within the Bonn Process.”

Mousavi cited another feature of Khalilzad’s first agreement as the replacement of the traditional system with a modern state system. He said what Afghanistan has is the parliament, elections, referendums, and in general a modern system of government. But what Khalilzad had planned was ignoring all these institutions including the Afghan constitution. In Khalilzad’s deal with the Taliban there was no mention of the constitution, parliament and elections, and so on.

He said the shift to international legitimacy from national legitimacy was another feature of the first agreement with the Taliban, saying that if Khalilzad, along with representatives of Russia, China and Pakistan, decided that the Afghan system of government would be such, but this is not right. It is up to the Afghan people to decide on their country’s system of government. I also told Zamir Kabulov (Russia’s representative in Afghanistan) that Afghanistan’s legitimacy must be rooted in and grounded in the process of national legitimacy, and the international community accepted this national legitimacy. We should not let international legitimacy take the place of national legitimacy.

The diplomat said that another move due to Khalilzad’s agreement with the Taliban was the replacement of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. However, the peace process must come from the heart of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The process of peace should not be to turn the Islamic Republic into an Islamic Emirate. If you look at the text of the agreement – which has never been officially released – it is said to be an agreement between the United States and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, although in brackets it is said that the United States does not recognize the Islamic Emirate.

Mousavi said that one of the clauses of Khalilzad’s agreement with the Taliban said the security contract between Kabul and Washington had been canceled, adding: “This was one of the reasons for the Congress to become indignant.”

He added: “While Iran has explicitly stated that it will attend no peace process where there are no representative of the Afghan people at the same time we have an in-depth analysis that if Khalilzad’s deal with the Taliban had been achieved it would not have been peace, but a relocation and war.”

The advisor to the IRI foreign minister said that the creation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan would not create peace for Afghanistan, but would create a new round of war: it is up to the people to determine the system of government. Any process that seeks to change the Afghan system in the name of peace is doomed to failure and Iran will never participate in the process.

 

Opponents of Peace in Khalilzad Plan

Referring to the ceasefire in Afghanistan, he said: “The ceasefire is the basis of any peace plan, and if any peace plan does not pay attention to the ceasefire, it will not work. If the Taliban agrees to a ceasefire, it must also be the guarantor, and if the ceasefire is not respected, it indicates that the Taliban have no authority over their own groups.”

The Afghan government is aware that without Pakistan, any peace plan in Afghanistan would not work out, said Mousavi no peace plan will succeed without national institutions.

He said about the growth of ISIS in Afghanistan: ISIS is a project. If peace is achieved part of the Taliban will also become ISIS. And if peace is realized then the remedies of these drugs will be complete. But in Khalilzad’s plan, the fate of the opposition was not clear.

Iran’s Fixed Principles on Afghan Talks

Underlining the role of national interests in foreign policy, the advisor to IRI foreign minister said: “Countries pursue their foreign policy based on the facts, and our current strategy for Afghan peace talks is based on national interests and potential threats, however, our principles are consistent and only our approaches change over the course of the process.