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Think Tank Defends Serbia Hosting Secret Afghan Govt-Taliban Talks

Sasa DragojloBelgradeBIRN August 18, 202116:53

Serbia hosted several behind-closed-doors talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, all with the approval of the US, EU and UN, said Jovan Kovacic, director of the think tank that organised the negotiations.

Afghanistan expert Michael Semple (L), Karim Khalili, former Vice President of Afghanistan (M) and Ivica Dacic (R), Serbia’s former Foreign Minister, at one of the Belgrade meetings. Photo: Private archive

After Serbia’s former foreign minister Ivica Dacic on Tuesday claimed that Serbia had hosted talks between the now former Afghan government and the Taliban three times in recent years, the director of East-West Bridge think tank – which reportedly organised the negotiations – told BIRN that Dacic’s information was accurate, backing it up with photos from the meetings.

Jovan Kovacic told BIRN that the former Afghan government and the Taliban held three meetings between 2018 and 2019 in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade.

Asked how his organisation got involved, Kovacic said he got a call from a well-known international figure about his idea that Serbia could act as neutral terrain for a meeting of the two sides.

“It was a bit surprising, but our organisation is known for building cooperation and confidence after the conflicts. Also, Serbia has a good position since it is neutral and we all know that the Muslim world is far from unified. In any other country, there would be allegations of different influences,” the director of East-West Bridge told BIRN.

He did not disclose the name of the “well-known international figure” who made the call, only that he is from an EU country.

Kovacic said he was told to contact Michael Semple, an Irish expert who the BBC has named as “one of the West’s most respected experts on Afghanistan”. Semple was a deputy European Union special representative for Afghanistan until the then Afghan government expellled him in 2007 over his “unauthorized activities”.

“I contacted him and then we contacted the Serbian government, which loved the idea. It was a serious task since many negotiatiors had obstacles to surmount, including travel bans. But Serbia did it really professionally,” he said, adding that secrecy is normal in such negotiations, in this case because “it was their first-ever meeting”.

Kovacic denied that the talks were conducted behind the backs of US, the EU or other involved actors, claiming they all gave permission and were involved in the process.

“We did not do anything behind anyone’s back. Everyone who needed to be invited was invited, including the US, EU countries such as Britain, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, and also representatives of UN,” he emphasized.

Asked about the financing of the whole process, he said that everybody shared the costs of travel and stay, and that the Serbian state only provided locations and technical and communications assets.

Karim Khalili, former Vice President of Afghanistan (L), Ivica Dacic (M), Serbia’s former Foreign Minister, and Jovan Kovacic, founder of East West Bridge, at one of the Belgrade meetings. Photo: Private archive

East West Bridge is a Serbian-based think tank whose members are usually people from the world of business, high politics and media in Serbia and the region.

Its website names Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic as one member. It emphasizes its partnership, among others, with the Trilateral Commission, World Economic Forum – Davos, European Business Summit, The National Alliance for Local Economy Development, NALED, and many other organisations.

Its director, Jovan Kovacic, is also the member of the Executive Committee of the Trilateral Commission and president of the Serbian National Group of the Trilateral Commission, a non-governmental organisation founded by David Rockefeller in 1973.

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Contact: Milica Krstic