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What to Make of Taliban’s Continued Rare Silence on Ghani’s Peace Offer?

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Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks at a panel discussion at Asia Society in Manhattan, New York, Sept. 20, 2017. VOA
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Uzbekistan on Tuesday hosted an international conference on Afghanistan and offered to host peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in an effort to help end more than 16 years of war in the country.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev told senior diplomats from regional as well as NATO member states that his county was ready to host direct talks with the Taliban.

ALSO READ: Watch Video: Taliban Leader Mullah Mansoor’s Car in Flames attacked by Drone

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Conference held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 27, 2018. VOA

“We stand ready to create all necessary conditions, at any stage of the peace process, to arrange on the territory of Uzbekistan direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement,” Mirziyoyev said at the conference.

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, and delegates stand for the national anthem during the second Kabul Process conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Feb. 28, 2018. VOA

The Taskhkent conference comes almost a month after the Kabul Process Conference in which the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered unconditional peace talks with the Afghan Taliban and pledged to recognize the insurgent group as a legitimate political party if it agreed to give up violence.

The insurgents have yet to formally respond to the Afghan government’s offer.

Expert offer different explanations to Taliban’s silence.

Rebecca Zimmerman, a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, believes the apparent silence suggests there is some space for negotiations.

“In the past, they [Taliban] haven’t been shy about publicly rejecting talks for failing to meet preconditions, even while they have been having private conversations. So in this case, I think keeping a low profile means there may be some negotiation space.” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman’s analysis of the situation is not too far from the calculation of some in the Afghan government.

ALSO READ: South Asia: Afghan government to examine reports of Taliban chief’s death

Optimism inside government

Mohammad Akram Khpalwak, chief secretary of the High Peace Council, a government funded body tasked with talking to the insurgents, told reporters earlier this month that they are waiting on an official response from the Afghan Taliban and that their sources indicated that the peace offer has led to high level deliberations among insurgents about what to do with the offer.

Afghan National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar told VOA’s Afghanistan service last week that if the Taliban need more time than they would grant it.

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Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar speaks with The Associated Press in Kabul, Oct. 24, 2015. VOA

“They [Taliban] neither rejected nor accepted our offer yet,” Atmar told VOA. “If they [Taliban] need more time, they can have it. However, they [Taliban] should be aware that each day by choosing to fight, they cut a day from peace.”

P.J. Crowley, former assistant secretary for Public Affairs and spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State during Obama administration said the Taliban taking time to respond is not unprecedented.

“Going back to the process in the early stages of the Obama administration, there was months at a time where we had to determine if Taliban representation was authoritative,” Crowley said.

“The fact that there would be a conversation and then there would be a lengthy period before we got an indication that there was a response or that there were actions that led us to believe that Taliban were serious, those steps took a long time,” Crowley added.

ALSO READ: US Airstrike kills Afghan Taliban Leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, leaves no clear successor

Informal response

The Taliban did respond to a letter published in The New Yorker magazine by Barnett Rubin, an Afghan expert and associate director at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, in which Rubin urged the Afghan Taliban to accept ceasefire and talks with the Afghan government.

Without explicitly referring to the peace offer, the insurgent group offered a rather cold response arguing that Afghanistan was “occupied” and that the Kabul Process was seeking the “surrender” of the Taliban.

Speaking to VOA, Rubin said it is not about whether the Taliban want to talk or not, but rather about who they want to talk to and about what.

“U.S. says talk to the Afghan government. Taliban say they [Afghan government] are not the decision makers. That is not who overthrew us. It is the Americans. We [Taliban] want to talk to the Americans. It is pointless to talk to other Afghans until we [Taliban] solve our problems with the Americans,” Rubin said.

“So it is not talks verses no talks. It is whom do they talk to and about what,” Rubin added.

Thomas H. Johnson, author of the book “Taliban Narratives” and director of the cultural and conflict studies program at the Naval Post Graduate School echoes Rubin’s assessment that Taliban views Washington as the real power and wants to talk to the U.S.

“This position also corresponds with their narrative they have suggested since the beginning of the conflict and also served as an explicit informational response to Trump’s suggestion that the U.S. will not negotiate with the Taliban,” Johnson said.

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Armed Taliban fighters are seen at an undisclosed location in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Dec.13, 2010. VOA

“Taliban presently control more of Afghanistan since 2001 and their power and influence appear to be on the rise. It is reasonable to conclude that many Taliban including its leader Hibatullah Akhundzada believe they are winning and thus see no need for negotiation,” Johnson added.

Waheed Muzhda, a Kabul-based analyst with sources inside the Taliban believes their position has not changed in regards to talk with the Afghan government.

“I think they [Taliban] have time and again said that they do not want to talk to the Afghan government because it [government] does not have the real authority,” Muzhda said.

“The silence does not necessarily mean anything positive in terms of Taliban accepting the offer, as suggested by some in the High Peace Council,” he added referencing to officials’ remarks who suggested that Taliban are mulling over their response.

US position

U.S. wants the Taliban to talk to the government of Afghanistan and welcomed the Afghan government’s gesture to offer unconditional peace talks to the insurgents.

“There is a path to peace and stability with dignity for those members of the Taliban who are prepared to reject violence, end their ties with terrorists, and to accept the constitution and its provisions for minorities and women,” Alice Wells, deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia told VOA’s Uzbek service last month. VOA

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Opium Cultivation Goes Down by 20% in Afghanistan: UN

It noted that opium poppy weeding and harvesting provided for the equivalent of up to 354,000 full-time jobs to rural areas in 2017.

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oPIUM CULTIVATION
In this April 11, 2016, photo, farmers harvest raw opium at a poppy field in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan. VOA

A new United Nations survey finds that opium cultivation in Afghanistan has decreased by 20 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year, citing a severe drought and falling prices of dry opium at the national level.

The total opium-poppy cultivation area decreased to 263,000 hectares, from 328,000 hectares estimated in 2017, but it was
still the second highest measurement for Afghanistan since the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began monitoring in 1994.

The potential opium production decreased by 29 percent to 6,400 tons from an estimated 9,000 tons in 2017.

The UNODC country representative, Mark Colhoun, while explaining factors behind the reduction told reporters in Kabul the farm-gate prices of dry opium at the harvest time fell to $94 per kilogram, the lowest since 2004.

Afghanistan, Opium cultivation
FILE – Afghan farmers collect raw opium as they work in a poppy field in Khogyani district of Jalalabad east of Kabul, Afghanistan, May 10, 2013. VOA

The decreases, in particular in the northern and western Afghan regions, were mainly attributed to the severe drought that hit the country during the course of the last year, he added.

“Despite these decreases, the overall area under opium-poppy cultivation is still the highest ever recorded. This is a clear challenge to security and safety for the region and beyond. It is also a threat to all countries to and through which these drugs are trafficked as well as to Afghanistan itself,” said Colhoun.

He warned that more high-quality low-cost heroin will reach consumer markets across the world, with increased consumption and related harms as a further likely consequence.

“The significant levels of opium-poppy cultivation and illicit trafficking of opiates will further fuel instability, insurgency and increase funding to terrorist groups in Afghanistan,” he said.

 

Afghanistan, Opium cultivation
Raw opium from a poppy head is seen at a poppy farmer’s field on the outskirts of Jalalabad, afghanistan. VOA

A new United Nations survey finds that opium cultivation in Afghanistan has decreased by 20 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year, citing a severe drought and falling prices of dry opium at the national level.

The total opium cultivation area decreased to 263,000 hectares, from 328,000 hectares estimated in 2017, but it was
still the second highest measurement for Afghanistan since the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began monitoring in 1994.

The potential opium production decreased by 29 percent to 6,400 tons from an estimated 9,000 tons in 2017.

The UNODC country representative, Mark Colhoun, while explaining factors behind the reduction told reporters in Kabul the farm-gate prices of dry opium at the harvest time fell to $94 per kilogram, the lowest since 2004.

The decreases, in particular in the northern and western Afghan regions, were mainly attributed to the severe drought that hit the country during the course of the last year, he added.

Opium cultivation
Afghan security personnel watch as flames and smoke rise after opium and narcotics are burned in a ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

“Despite these decreases, the overall area under opium-poppy cultivation is still the highest ever recorded. This is a clear challenge to security and safety for the region and beyond. It is also a threat to all countries to and through which these drugs are trafficked as well as to Afghanistan itself,” said Colhoun.

He warned that more high-quality low-cost heroin will reach consumer markets across the world, with increased consumption and related harms as a further likely consequence.

“The significant levels of opium-poppy cultivation and illicit trafficking of opiates will further fuel instability, insurgency and increase funding to terrorist groups in Afghanistan,” he said.

Colhoun noted that while there is no single explanation for the continuing high levels of opium-poppy cultivation, rule of law-related challenges such as political instability, lack of government control and security as well as corruption have been found to be among the main drivers of illicit cultivation.

The UNODC survey estimated that the total farm-gate value of opium production decreased by 56 percent to $604 million, which is equivalent to three percent of Afghanistan’s GDP, from $1.4 billion in 2017. The lowest prices strongly undermined the income earned from opium cultivation by farmers.

 Afghan security personnel watch as flames and smoke rise after opium and narcotics are burned in a ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan
Field Of poppies, Opium. Pixabay

The study finds that 24 out of the 34 Afghan provinces grew the opium-poppy in 2018, the same number as in the previous year.

The survey found that 69 percent of the opium poppy cultivation took place in southern Afghanistan and the largest province of Helmand remained the leading opium-poppy cultivating region followed by neighboring Kandahar and Uruzgan and Nangarhar in the east.

It noted that poppy opium cultivation weeding and harvesting provided for the equivalent of up to 354,000 full-time jobs to rural areas in 2017.

A U.S. government agency, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), has noted in its latest report that as of September 30, Washington’s counternarcotics-related appropriations for the country had reached almost $9 billion.

Also Read: The Elections in Afghanistan

“Despite the importance of the threat narcotics pose to reconstruction and despite massive expenditures for programs including poppy-crop eradication, drug seizures and interdictions, alternative-livelihood support, aviation support, and incentives for provincial governments, the drug trade remains entrenched in Afghanistan, and is growing,” said Sigar, which monitors U.S. civilian and military spendings in the country. (VOA)