Session 1
Sultan Barakat
Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani
Barnett Rubin
Alex Thier
Meredith Preston McGhie
Session 2
Amb. Janan Mosazai
Amina Khan
Nilofar Sakhi

The Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies, in participation with the Arab Center Washington DC (ACW), launched the first of a three-day conference titled: “Looking to towards Peace in Afghanistan after the US-NATO Withdrawal.” The conference brings together leading experts on Afghanistan to discuss the most pressing debates related to the ongoing intra-Afghan peace process and what the prospects for peace may look like after the US-NATO military withdrawal this autumn. Given the exceptional circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, the conference is taking place via Zoom video conference from 21-23 June 2021.

A distinguished group of specialists on the topic participated in the first day of the conference. The first session commenced with an opening speech by Professor Sultan Barakat, Director of CHS, and Dr. Khalil E. Jahshan, Executive Director of ACW. Each of them emphasized the importance of the conference, and the significance of its timing regarding the context of the ongoing peace process between the Afghan parties in Doha. They stressed that this conference offers an exceptional opportunity to follow up on the latest analysis on peace and development in Afghanistan by a group of leading experts, academics and researchers who are influential in Afghan affairs.

H.E. Dr. Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, currently the Special Envoy of the Foreign Ministry of the State of Qatar for Counterterrorism and Mediation in Conflict Resolution, delivered the opening speech in the first session of the first day of the conference. Dr Qahtani highlighted both the previous and the present peace processes and efforts in Afghanistan, the complexities of the political settlement and formal negotiations, the Qatari role in the mediation process and facilitating negotiations, and the prospect of peace in Afghanistan.

In the opening speech, H.E. Mutlaq Al-Qahtani stressed the importance of this conference, particularly after the announcement of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan based on the Doha Agreement. He presented the most prominent Qatari efforts related to the US-Taliban peace agreement and the challenges and obstacles the State of Qatar has been facing in facilitating negotiations between the United States and the Taliban in Doha.

He noted that of the most intriguing challenges, and at the same time one of the extraordinary features of these negotiations, is the nature of negotiations and peace discussions that took place between a superpower state and an active non-state group, which is still classified by the UN as a 'foreign terrorist organization'. Another challenge is the absence of rules, regulations, and procedures that were supposed to exist to organize the negotiating process and talks, in addition to the non-existence of any official mandate for the negotiator and mediator during the process that took place in Doha.

However, Qatar was able to take gradual steps and facilitated the negotiation process until solidifying the Doha Agreement, which was signed by the two parties on 29 February 2020. The agreement consists of four points: the Taliban do not allow Afghanistan to be exploited by terrorist groups, the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan, the start of the intra-Afghan peace dialogue, and the declaration of a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.

To support the peace process in Afghanistan, H.E. Al-Qahtani stressed the importance of cooperation to achieve sustainable and inclusive peace in Afghanistan, as the process is not competitive, but cooperative. What is more important for the achievement of peace is that the Afghan people should not allow others to interfere in their internal affairs and the future politics of their country. This is because only the people of a country can pave the way for others to intervene, and thus the process must be owned by the Afghans. They are the ones who must take the initiative and balance their role with the role of international parties to establish permanent peace in Afghanistan.

He also expressed Qatar's willingness and goodwill to support official mediation efforts, as their role as a "facilitator" for the negations is not enough or appropriate, given consideration of the nature and the sensitivity of the long-term conflict in Afghanistan.

The first day of the conference concluded with two sessions. In the first session on ‘Complexities of the Formal Peace Process’, leading researchers presented their papers: Faiz Zaland, Professor, Kabul University; followed by a lecture by Barnett Rubin, Senior Fellow, Center on International Cooperation, New York University; Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General, Global Centre for Pluralism; and finally Alex Thier, Chief Executive Officer, Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS).

The second session on ‘Regional Policies towards Afghan Peace’ began with a lecture by the Director of Policy and Diplomacy at McColm & Company, Nilofar Sakhi; followed by the Director of Centre for Afghanistan, Middle East & Africa, Institute of Strategic Studies (ISSI), Amina Khan; and finally, the Executive Committee Member, Heart of Asia Society Amb. Janan Mosazai.

CHS and ACW hope that the conference will be an exceptional opportunity to consider recent analysis and research on the complexities of the formal negotiation process, the potential nature of a political settlement, long-term recovery, cross-sectoral sustainable peacebuilding, refugee return, and inclusivity in the peace process, and making valuable contributions to addressing these issues.

The CHS and ACW conference concludes on Wednesday 23 June 2021. Simultaneous translation between English, Dari, Pashto and Arabic is provided to open the conversation to Afghan and global audiences interested in the possibilities for building long-term peace in the country.

Registration via Zoom is open for public audiences on the Arab Center Washington Dc website and the event is livestreamed on CHS and ACW’s social media accounts. For more information, please visit the event's page on CHS website.