Historic opportunity for peace in Afghanistan

The US pulling out of Afghanistan without Taliban and Afghan government reaching a consensus on that could easily push the country into a factional war with disastrous consequences.

The Trump administration seems very serious in ending eighteen years long war in Afghanistan and pulling out its troops from that war-ravaged country which has cost $45 billion annually to the US since its blitzkrieg in 2001 besides thousands of casualties of the US and allied forces. The Taliban also seem equally willing to find a negotiated solution to the continuing strife

As a consequence of the mutual sentiment to end the conflict, the US and Taliban have been engaged in talks with each other at Doha, facilitated by Pakistan. The current round of talks is the seventh attempt in this regard. The vibes emanating from both the camps on these talks so far are quite encouraging. US Secretary of state Mike Pompeo during his visit to Afghanistan in late June said that Trump administration was aiming for a peace deal before first September.

Though the signals in regards to US and Taliban reaching an agreement on pull out of US troops from Afghanistan are quite positive than ever before but the most important aspect of ending the conflict pertains to an agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government on the post-US exit political arrangement that enjoys the support and backing of all the internal stakeholders. Even if the US and Taliban resolve their major issues, the Afghans themselves will need to sort out a number of key internal issues-including a ceasefire, dialogue between Taliban and government and most importantly the formation of a new government and political system.

The US while engaging with the Taliban, therefore, has very rightly made it clear that the pull out of its forces from Afghanistan is contingent upon successful intra-Afghan dialogue on future set up in the country. The US pulling out of Afghanistan without Taliban and Afghan government reaching a consensus on that could easily push the country into a factional war with disastrous consequences. The regional countries including Russia, China and Pakistan which have been affected by the conflict in Afghanistan and the phenomenon of terrorism in varying degree have also thrown their weight behind the process of settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government as a pre-requisite to resolving the Afghan conundrum and made efforts to facilitate intra-Afghan dialogue.

Russia has hosted two rounds of intra-Afghan dialogue in Moscow earlier this year in which Afghan politicians including former President Hamid Karzai, former commanders and civil society members including women met the Taliban representatives participated. Pakistan hosted a similar intra-Afghan dialogue prior to the commencement of the recent Doha talks between US and Taliban. China also arranged a four-party meeting of senior officials of US, Chinese, Russian and Pakistani officials which expressed support for the Afghan reconciliation process that was broadly inclusive and supported by all parties. US negotiator Khalilzad also attended third China-Russia-US tripartite consultation on Afghanistan and the four-party Conference held earlier. According to the spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry the parties exchanged views on the current peace talks in Afghanistan, political settlement of the Afghan issue and joint efforts to help Afghanistan achieve peace, security and prosperity. The foregoing developments indicate the urgency and seriousness of all the stakeholders to facilitate intra-Afghan dialogue and helping the two parties to reach a settlement on the future of Afghanistan without which peace in Afghanistan is inconceivable.

A rare consensus about resolving the conflict peacefully, both inside and outside Afghanistan, means peace has never been so close. In the backdrop of foregoing developments, the US-Taliban talks in Doha as well as intra-Afghan parleys involving Taliban and some Afghan officials is an encouraging portent. At the end of two day talks in Doha the communiqué issued said that the two sides agreed that post War Afghanistan would have an Islamic legal system, protect women’s rights within the Islamic framework of Islamic values and ensure equality for all ethnic groups. The “roadmap for peace” is based on the opening of a monitored peace process, return of internally displaced people, and non-interference by regional powers in Afghanistan. That indeed is promising outcome and hopefully it would pave the way for direct interface between the Taliban and Afghan government in the near future, supported and encouraged by the regional countries. Washington has also expressed the hope that the road map can be decided by September 1 allowing for the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. US peace envoy Khalilzad reportedly told Al-Jazeera that substantive progress has been made in the latest round of talks on assurances on counterterrorism, which is important for the US and the world; withdrawal of foreign troops which is important for the Taliban; intra-Afghan negotiations, including agreement on a roadmap for the political future of Afghanistan; and a complete, comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.

It is a historic opportunity for peace in Afghanistan. The Taliban owe it to their countrymen to show flexibility and exhibit a visionary approach in resolving the conflict. It is pertinent to mention that the dynamics of the conflict in Afghanistan have changed dramatically in recent years. Majority of those being killed and injured are Afghan civilians, police and Taliban fighters. Reliable sources believe that since 2014 more than 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed, while over the same period the number of foreigners killed stands at only 72. UN sources say the civilian deaths reached a record high in 2018 and more than 32,000 civilians had been killed in the last decade. A large number of Taliban fighters are also regularly being killed in airstrikes, night raids and ground fighting. They are all Afghans. Re-integration of Taliban with the Afghan society therefore is pivotal to peace in Afghanistan. Though the process involves lot of complications due to the conflicting interests of different internal stakeholder but given the political will and commitment nothing is impossible.

Reaching agreements on resolving conflicts, as is evident by history, does not necessarily guarantee peaceful end to them. Agreements are only the first step in that direction. The most important aspect is the implementation of the agreement. In the post-agreement era the major challenge for Afghanistan would be the creation of verifiable enforcement mechanism. In view of the treacherous history of conflict in Afghanistan, there is a strong possibility that any agreement reached between the Taliban and the Afghan government could easily be derailed by any one of the players. This necessitates the role of international guarantors involving the regional powers and the key international players for making sure that what is on paper is implemented in letter and spirit. In my view giving greater role to the regional powers including Russia, China and Pakistan in regards to ensuring implementation of the likely agreement would be very much desirable and needed as they have the biggest stakes in peace in Afghanistan as regional players which have ensured continued engagement with the Taliban for promoting intra-Afghan dialogue and also enjoy their trust.

Malik Muhammad Ashraf

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at ashpak10@gmail.com.

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