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Passions are rising in Afghanistan with active geopolitical processes underway around the country. There are two major aspects at this stage: the negotiation process as regards the Taliban movement (prohibited in Russia) and the upcoming presidential elections to determine the leader under whom the winds of change will start blowing finally.
On January 27, the Taliban made progress in negotiations with the American delegation in Qatar. This was stated by rebel movement's spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid. He noted that the parties had achieved some success in discussing the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and a number of other issues. However, he denied reports of a ceasefire and direct talks with the Afghan government. Mujahid stressed that progress on other issues is impossible until the withdrawal is agreed upon. A noteworthy detail is that last Saturday Reuters News Agency reported a reconciled draft treaty between the United States and the Taliban. According to the agency, the agreement stipulates a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan within 18 months.
The American side noted the progress as well. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United State is set to achieve peace in Afghanistan and withdraw troops from this country. "The United States is serious about pursuing peace, preventing Afghanistan from continuing to be a space for international terrorism and bringing forces home", Pompeo wrote.
The Secretary of State added that America seeks to strengthen sovereignty and independence of Afghanistan. Moreover, US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad emphasized that the US and the Taliban achieved significant progress on key issues in their negotiations.
On January 21, Doha hosted a new round of bilateral talks between the radical Taliban movement and the United States. Before that, the Taliban had refused to meet with Washington representatives in Qatar and Pakistan. Another event involving the United States, the Taliban and delegates from the Gulf countries, that was to be held in Jeddah in early January this year, was also postponed sine die.
During the standstill in negotiations between the parties, the Taliban carried out a series of headline-making attacks, including the detonation of a mined truck in Kabul and attack on a National Directorate of Security (NDS) training center in the province of Wardak.
The regional forces also pointed to the progress in negotiations, as was stated by Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Thus, there is every indication of a considerable onward movement in the United States' talks with the Taliban.
The presidential election issue is an interesting one either. At the moment, over ten candidates have expressed their desire to compete for the highest political office. Among those who earlier announced their intention to run are: Abdul Latif Pedram, Hakim Torsan, Saeed Jalili, Enayatullah Hafiz, Zalmai Rassoul, Nur ul-Haq Ulumi and Faramarz Tamanna. However, the most serious contenders are listed as follows. First is acting head of state Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Then we have Chief Executive and Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah and powerful former national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar. Next are former Interior Minister Amrullah Saleh and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader and founder of the Islamic party of Afghanistan (IPA).
It is expected that some other Afghan politicians will express their willingness to run for president soon. Even now it seems fair to say that the upcoming elections are going to be an interesting and dramatic event. Anyway, taking part in the election campaign will be prominent politicians, diplomats, warlords and even ex-terrorists.
A day earlier several Afghan political scientists accused the country's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah of violating the electoral legislation and called it illegal to nominate him as candidate for head of the republic. Abdullah Abdullah, who has been heading the Afghan government for several years, announced his decision to run for president on January 20, the same day as incumbent head of state Mohammad Ashraf Ghani did. Analysts lambasted Abdullah for not having resigned before becoming a candidate, as required by the Afghan legislation. "The law requires that every public servant with presidential ambitions should leave his current position. Failure to do so is a breach of law", political scientist and professor at Kabul University Wadir Safi told the Panjwok agency.
He stressed that this rule does not apply to the President of Afghanistan, as the resignation of the head of state will cause a political vacuum. A similar opinion is shared by another Afghan political expert, Mohammad Harun, who pointed to the illegitimacy of staying in office by the chief executive and his deputies.
It bears reminding that it was Abdullah Abdullah and Mohammad Ashraf Ghani who were the main rivals in the 2014 struggle for presidency, and the victory of the latter led to a political split and crisis in the country. In order to resolve the protracted confrontation, the National Unity Government (NUG) was formed, in which the post of Chief Executive was specially created for Abdullah.
As stated in article 44 of the election law, presidential advisers, ministers, their deputies and aides, provincial governors, representatives of national judicial, national security, defense and law enforcement agencies, as well as members of the electoral commissions are required to leave their posts before nominated for any elections to government bodies. However, as noted by Afghan political scientists, the issue is that this list does not include the post of chief executive – moreover, it is still not enshrined in the republic's Constitution, and the question of its further existence after the upcoming presidential elections remains open.
Summing up the geopolitical situation around Afghanistan, a number of conclusions can be made. First of all, 2019 will be one of the pivotal years in the Islamic Republic's fate. Presidential elections will define the politician under whom all the key changes in the socio-political environment of the country will take place. Secondly, the success of the negotiation process with the Taliban means that it is all about timing when a truce is signed. Radicals will one way or another become part of the Afghan government. The United States will limit its military presence in the country. And all of this will occur during the reign of the new President of Afghanistan.