Taliban’s chief negotiator Abbas Stanakzai said in his opening remarks to delegates at the Moscow Peace Talks meeting on Tuesday evening that the group does not consider the current Afghan Constitution “legitimate” and that this blueprint was an obstacle to peace.
“The current Constitution is illegitimate and has been imposed on Afghans by Kabul's administration; Afghanistan’s Constitution must be ratified by Afghanistan’s religious scholars and academics so that it will be acceptable to the Afghan people,” he said.
Stanakzai said that once US forces withdraw, the Taliban will not demand political monopoly and that in order to achieve sustainable peace, the names of Taliban leaders must be removed from the US blacklist so that they can travel freely in their efforts for peace.
Opening the talks, former president Hamid Karzai said he hopes Pakistan and Afghanistan can forge good relations going forward and that the Moscow talks will end on a positive note.
Karzai said a democratic and free Afghanistan can be achieved if there is unity among the people. He also welcomed US’s efforts for peace.
In a complete break from previous talks, which have always been held behind closed doors, Tuesday’s opening remarks were streamed live on social media.
Karzai’s speech lasted about eight minutes and saw the former president drive home the need for peace and unity in the country.
Stanakzai however spoke for about 30 minutes and outlined the group’s strategies for peace, governance, health, women’s rights, development projects and reducing civilian casualties.
The Moscow Talks are expected to run over two days, and have for the first time brought together dozens of Afghan politicians and at least 10 Taliban members – with the focus being on peace.
However, the Afghan government itself has no representation at these talks as until now, the Taliban has refused to engage in discussions with government, which it deems illegitimate.
In the run up to the talks, which follow after last month’s negotiations between the US and Taliban, Afghan women in particular have raised concerns over their rights in the event of a peace accord being reached.
On this topic, Stanakzai denied any wrongdoing on the part of the Taliban regarding women’s education and said the group has neither poisoned schoolgirls in the past nor has it torched girls schools. The Taliban representative also denied involvement by the Taliban in targeting civilian vehicles with IEDs.
Stanekzai said the Taliban want the crisis to be resolved in a peaceful way and that the group wants to play a significant role in the security of the region.
“Peace needs a realistic approach. Peace needs the consensus of all Afghans. Peace needs a strong guarantee,” he said.
Former vice president Mohammad Younus Qanooni also got to address delegates and said war was not a solution to the country’s problems.
“War is not the solution to the problem in Afghanistan. War needs intra-Afghan dialogue.
“The era of repression has ended. Two and a half million Afghans were martyred for the cause of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and it is a (matter of) principle for all of us. We have reshaped our army, we have dignified air forces. We have parliament, legal and judicial institutions.
“A dynamic generation is working in Afghanistan and these are great achievements and we must defend them. But we need to bring reforms in our system. But Afghans prefer a democracy which will be compatible to our values,” said Qanooni.
He said that Moscow talks indicate that Afghans have the determination and the will to open a new chapter to solve the issues and that Afghans and Taliban should come together to resolve their differences.
“The majority of Afghans abroad and inside the country have expectations from the Moscow talks; they wait for happy news while our rivals and those opposing peace and foresee interests in the war expect negative results from these talks here.
“I recommend all participants here reach a conclusion not to end our meeting until we reach a comprehensive settlement. We can prolong our talks and can think about a mechanism,” said Qanooni.
Qanooni in defiance to the Taiban rejected the group’s perception of the Afghan Constitution and instead described it as unique and one of the better ones in the region.
In addition, Mohammad Mohaqiq, the second deputy of CEO Abdullah Abdullah, also spoke at the meeting and called on the Taliban to show flexibility and avoid the policy of rejecting other Afghans as this did nothing to help end the war.
“We don’t have any justification for war in Afghanistan. Because both sides are Muslims and there is no justification for bloodshed. We call ourselves Afghans. As Afghans we should not use weapons against each other,” he said.
Fawzia Kofi, former MP, also addressed delegates as did Atta Mohammad Noor, former Balkh governor – who called for an interim government.