By Tariq M Saeedi
nCa Report for Opinion Maker
Ashgabat, 21 May 2011 (nCa) — The approaching deadline for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, and the death of Bin Laden – an important milestone in the so-called war on terrorism – have apparently stimulated the process of peace talks in Afghanistan.
A delegation of the Afghan High Peace Council (AHPC) had a meeting Friday with President Berdymuhamedov of Turkmenistan at his Caspian residence.
The AHPC delegation was led by its chairman, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president of Afghanistan. The sizeable delegation, of which four persons met the Turkmen president, includes the deputy chairman of AHPC, Asadulla Wefa, its secretary general, Masoom Stanikzai, and the Afghan ambassador in Turkmenistan, Mohammad Fazil Saifi.
The details of the talks were not available to the media but it is understood that Rabbani briefed the Turkmen president on the progress AHPC has made so far in creating a mechanism for peace building process in Afghanistan and bringing Taliban to the negotiation table.
The vaguely worded report by the Turkmen TV suggests that both the Turkmen government and the AHPC agree that peace stands no chance on its own unless fully backed by steps for economic development of the war-torn country.
TAPI – Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project – was mentioned by both sides as an important building block for lasting peace and grassroots prosperity across the member countries.
The substantial efforts made by Turkmenistan for extending the railway network to a new destination in Afghanistan, the US $ 500 million project for increasing the supplies of electricity to several Afghan provinces, the provision of petrol and diesel oil at subsidized prices, the ongoing system of medical aid to patients in the border areas and the annual humanitarian aid shipments were also cited as important contribution for promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan.
What is AHPC?
AHPC (Afghan High Peace Council) is, at least in theory, an independent body created by President Hamid Karzai in September 2010 as a bridge for talks with the opposition, most notably the Taliban. 
When announcing the creation of AHPC, Karzai said that the Afghan Peace Jirga held in June 2010  was the foundation for creation of AHPC. In saying so, he was actually providing constitutional support to AHPC because Loya Jirga – Peace Jirga was also a Loya Jirga – is recognized by the chapter 6, article 110 of the constitution of Turkmenistan as “the highest manifestation of the will of the people of Afghanistan.” 
AHPC has 70 members including two former presidents of Afghanistan (Burhanuddin Rabbani and Sibghatullah Mujaddadi).
Rabbani was elected the chairman of AHPC on 10 October 2010. 
How Afghans React to AHPC?
Many Afghan intellectuals and leaders have expressed doubts about the viability and impartiality of AHPC.
The Afghanistan Analysis Network, a highly popular and respected source on Afghan affairs, has compelling material  on the negative comments about AHPC.
The fact that the basic mandate of AHPC is to bring the Taliban to peace talks, has disappointed many observers, reports AAN (Afghanistan Analysis Network). There are powerful voices inside Afghanistan that maintain that there should be no talks with Taliban until they recognize the new Constitution, lay down arms, and break all links with Al Qaeda.
There are also objections on the composition of AHPC. These objections can be summed up as follows:
- The AHPC members were handpicked by Karzai without going through any democratic process.
- The AHPC is dominated by warlords and commanders who are accused of war crimes and atrocities during the civil war following the withdrawal of Soviet troops.
- Many of the AHPC members (including Rabbani) have been staunch enemies of Taliban, making their ability to attract Taliban to the peace table and their neutrality in the whole process rather doubtful.
- Many of the AHPC members are already part of other government commissions, which will slow down the work of AHPC because they will not be able to give full time to its work.
However, even the worst critics are of the view that the national reconciliation process, mandated to AHPC, should be given full chance before giving any negative comments.
There are many in Afghanistan who think that AHPC is a conspiracy to bring Taliban back to power. However, Rabbani has dismissed such speculations as baseless and said that those who criticize the peace efforts don’t understand the peace process.  and  He was specifically referring to remarks by the former security chief of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh. On the other hand, Saleh’s concerns may not have been wholly unfounded because a member of AHPC, Mohammad Muhaqiq said that some of the prisoners released through the mediation process have returned to the Taliban side. 
What has AHPC done so far?
The credit must be given where it is due. AHPC has been quite active since its creation. Rabbani himself has led delegations to several countries including Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and now Turkmenistan.
To begin with, AHPC had a formless mandate and almost no clue as to where to start. Moreover, it was opposed by nearly everyone, including the USA.
A major development is that Turkey, a country trusted by all sides in the Afghan conflict, is taking active interest in the peace process. Even though Turkey has been actively pursuing the peace building proposals for Afghanistan for quite some time now, the creation of AHPC hpw provided with a suitable instrument to sculpt the contours of peace.
AHPC delegations visited Turkey in February and April 2011 and had talks with the Turkish leadership including Prime Minister Erdogan and speaker of the Turkish parliament Mehmet Ali Sahin  and ,
The main outcome was that Turkey seemed willing to host a Taliban office on its soil. If implemented, this idea could be the start of process for Afghan national reconciliation. However, not everyone in either Afghanistan or Turkey was happy with the idea. Some observers opined that allowing Taliban officially to open office in Turkey would amount to conferring legitimacy on them. Nevertheless, AHPC is of the view that the opening of the Taliban office in Turkey would mean that 50% of the challenge for peace talks had been met.
It is also believed that AHPC has made some headway in convincing some Taliban elements to attend the peace talks even though the general stand of the Taliban has been that no talks would be held before the foreign forces leave Afghanistan.
Addressing a press conference in Kabul on 14 October 2010, Rabbani said that some Taliban leaders had agreed to participate in the peace process. He described the process as “in early stages.” 
Rabbani has visited Pakistan and Pakistan leadership has made several trips to Kabul to boost the peace talks. On the whole, Pakistan has promised to encourage the talks between AHPC and Taliban although some observers have expressed their doubts about the viability of this idea. During his visit to Pakistan, Rabbani agreed to the idea of creating a mini council – a kind of sub-jirga – to use the resources and space of Pakistan to start talks with Taliban. However he appeared to retract this statement on his return to Kabul. The one thing that remained un-denied was Rabbani requested Pakistan to use whatever influence it had with Taliban for the peace building work in Afghanistan. ,  and 
In his visit to Iran in November 2010, Rabbani agreed that the presence of foreign troops was worsening the situation in Afghanistan. 
As part of his reconciliation marathon, Rabbani and his AHPC have secured release of many prisoners from the Afghan and Guantanamo prisone. More prisoners were expected to be released under this programme, Rabbani told in Khost on 16 March 2011. 
Commenting on the death of Bin Laden, Rabbani said that the anger of the militants would be a short lived phenomenon. 
He has reassured the skeptics that AHPC and its work was an Afghan-led initiative through and through , and appealed to the regional states in the peace building process in Afghanistan. 
American stand on peace process
The United States has lately softened on its opposition for inclusion of Taliban in the peace process. The top US officials including Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton are not directly opposed to the idea now. 
Who is Rabbani?
Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani was born in 1940 in Badakhshan province in northern Afghanistan. He is an ethnic Tajik and holds masters from Kabul University and Al Azhar (Cairo).
When the communist revolution took place in afghannistan, he went into hiding and started his Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Society of Afghanistan), one of the seven main groups that fought Red armies until their ouster from Afghanistan.
Later, he led the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (UIFSA), an alliance of mostly non-Pashtuns that resisted the Taliban.
He was President of Afghanistan from June 1992 to September 1996, and again from 13 November 2001 to 22 December 2001. 
In the post-communist era, the forces of Rabbani were accused of war crimes and atrocities against civilians. He is a controversial figure but so is almost every other high profile and influential person in Afghanistan.
Turkmenistan’s Peace Formula
In his speech at the last UN General Assembly session in New York, President Berdymuhamedov presented a five-point formula for peace in Afghanistan. 
His formula is composed of:
1. Offer of the political space of Turkmenistan for inter-Afghan dialogue under the auspices of the UN
2. Education and training of Afghan bureaucrats and civil servants in Turkmenistan
3. Assistance in development of transport infrastructure in Afghanistan
4. Construction of TAPI as a regional project for common stability and prosperity
5. Increase of power supply to Afghanistan through massive investment in transmission and generation infrastructure
How does this formula dovetail with AHPC mandate?
The formula of Turkmenistan is fully compatible with the AHPC mandate. Four of the five points in this formula consist of unilateral commitment from Turkmenistan to provide training and development support to Afghanistan without expecting anything in return. As Turkmenistan sees it, the peace and stability in Afghanistan would be the main reward for not only Turkmenistan but the entire region.
The visit of President Karzai to Turkmenistan, scheduled for later this month, would probably provide a basic gauge for measuring the progress of the peace process in Afghanistan.