The United Nations and the Government of Afghanistan jointly held the “Geneva Conference on Afghanistan” in Geneva, Switzerland, on the 27th and 28th of November 2018. This ministerial conference was attended by representatives from 61 countries and 35 organizations, high-level delegates from United Nations, and government officials from Afghanistan, including Mr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the President of Afghanistan, Mrs. Rula Ghani, the First Lady, and Mr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive Officer. The author attended this conference as part of a delegation from the University of Erfurt.
The aim of this conference was to present the progress made in Afghanistan during the last two years to the international community. The president hosted an event on the topic of the “Private Sector” in Afghanistan. He discussed how the economy of Afghanistan is evolving towards self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Major regional development projects, such as the regional gas-pipeline and power grid, as well as the newly established air corridor to export Afghan products abroad, were given as examples of these advances.
The First Lady hosted a panel discussion on the topic of “Professional Training of Afghan Women”. She is an activist, and her office is heavily engaged in promoting gender equality, education, and training programs for women, as well as other disadvantaged groups. The panel discussed how female participation in the economy would benefit the country, and the major steps were taken in this regard to train, educate, and employ women in private, as well as in public, spheres.
The Chief Executive Officer hosted two panels. In the first panel, the issue of returnees and IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) were discussed, and the challenges and achievements involved were presented. Representatives from Iran and Pakistan presented their countries’ view on the Afghan migration issue, as these two countries are the main destinations for Afghan migrants in the region. In the second panel, the recent draught in Afghanistan was the main topic. Afghanistan has suffered severe draught this year, and the need for humanitarian assistance in affected areas is dire. Draught has a drastically negative effect on the livelihoods of the rural population, considering their dependence on agriculture, and may force large-scale migration to the cities.
The main conference on November 28th was attended by high delegates and discussed pressing security issues. The possibility of peace negotiation with the Taliban (the anti-government militants active in the country since 2001) was the main topic. While some optimism exists that a peace deal can be reached to end 17 years of violent conflict, President Ghani warned the international community, that, in the case of a deal being made, any compromise on recent progress made could jeopardize the Afghan constitution and its values. Such a peace deal would result only in chaos, state failure, and another civil war.
On one hand, the international community praised government achievements and efforts toward peace. On the other, they expressed a fear of losing the recent achievements made in the country in protecting human rights, particularly gender equality and the relative freedom the women have achieved in Afghanistan. They urged the government to include women in peace negotiation, and, furthermore, that the voice of minorities should be heard and considered. A national gathering (Loya Jirga) is planned for March 17th to give the people of Afghanistan a voice in peace negotiation.
The recent round of negotiations between US Special Representative to Afghanistan, Mr. Zalmai Khalilzad, and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, has further increased the hope for peace. However, the government is not yet involved in direct peace negotiation with the Taliban. While one can see optimism for Afghanistan’s future in the eyes of the officials of its government, a belief shared by the international delegates, the path to achieving peace and security still seems to be far away.