Qatar sends mediation offer to Afghanistan's warring sides: envoy
News of Doha's diplomatic push comes as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other Kabul leaders and officials are in Washington to meet US President Joe Biden.
The withdrawal of US and NATO is mostly set to be complete within weeks, much earlier than its scheduled September 11th date. The Taliban have made unprecedented gains in northern Afghanistan and fears abound that the country will descend into full-blown war in the absence of a peace deal.
At a virtual conference co-organised by the Arab Center Washington DC, Qatar's special envoy for counterterrorism and mediation of conflict resolution, Mutlaq Al-Qahtani, said a proposal for employing third-party mediation had been sent to both Afghan government negotiating teams and representatives of the Taliban.
It included both agenda items for negotiators, as well as a time frame ending ahead of September 11th, Qahtani told the panel.
The intra-Afghan talks that began in September followed a landmark agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban, brokered by Qatar, that paved the way for Washington's withdrawal in exchange from pledges by the insurgents not to attack foreign forces or allow Afghanistan to become a breeding ground for extremist groups.
The talks between the warring sides were bogged down over procedural issues of nearly 60 days but they eventually agreed on the framework of discussions.
Yet the so-called peace process, taking place in the Qatari capital, collapsed soon after, with both sides blaming the other for the deadlock.
"We do not think facilitation is enough, they [Afghan negotiators] need formal mediation," Qahtani said.
Qahtani explained that while the parties were yet to finalise their agreement on the mediation, one party apparently required two mediators while the other party needed one, without elaborating.
During his address, the Qatari diplomat outlined his vision for what the mediation ought to entail.
"We are not talking about arbitration. [We want] A mediation wherein the mediators' suggestions and proposal are not binding," Qahtani said. "A mediator that understands the cultural sensitivity of the conflict. A mediation that helps the parties reach a peaceful settlement. A mediator that is impartial and does the mediation in full compliance with international law."
The envoy stressed the need for talks to be based on a specific agenda that prioritised issues most important to Afghans themselves, such as the nature of any power sharing . He also added that Qatar was ready to mediate "if asked by the parties unequivocally".
"We stand ready for that. We expect the parties to come to us very soon with a final decision. They almost there," he said.
The Taliban, who operate an office in Qatar, confirmed receiving a proposal from Doha, VOA reported.
This week, fighters for the Islamist group took Afghanistan's main border crossing with Tajikistan, as well as multiple district in Kunduz, consolidating unprecedented gains in the traditional heartland of anti-Taliban resistance.
In response, the Kabul administration has reportedly ordered the mobilisation of local volunteers to fight alongside beleaguered government forces.
Critics say the move resurrects pre-existing militias loyal to local commanders or powerful warlords close to the ruling leadership.
This is despite the involvement of those same groups and their antecedents in Afghanistan's brutal civil war of 1992-1996, which saw the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Kabul.