Future Beckons Afghanistan

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By Naser Sidiqee, General Director of Policies and Programs at the State Ministry for Peace
 

Ever since the US President, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr announced his decision to “end America’s longest war” in Afghanistan, by withdrawing all US troops before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, observers and former and current officials around the globe have expressed both skepticism as well as see it as an opportunity for achieving lasting peace.

While the skeptics highlight the fact that post-US and NATO withdrawal, Afghanistan will have no one to depend on to keep fighting the Taliban as well as other transnational terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS-KP. The optimists both inside the country and abroad find credence in Afghanistan’s more than 300,000 battle-tested men in arms and place their confidence in the resilience of the post-2001 generation as well as institutions.

The focus of advocates and critics, for the most part, seem to be on the two extreme ends of the spectrum; from unity and resilience to horror and chaos. However, there is less chance of either of those extremes happening because there is so much in between which I will try to put into perspective and discuss major threats and opportunities.

Are Taliban a Serious Threat?

From a security perspective, the critics believe that the Taliban are a formidable opponent which needs to be taken seriously. Their primary sources of concern are the Taliban’s ability to sustain its insurgency against the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan over the last 20 years, its fundamental ideology and quest for a so-called “Islamic system”, its fanatically devoted and full-time fighters of up to a 100,000, its control over notable swaths of the country, its income from production and trafficking of poppy-based drugs, smuggling as well as extortion, its safe havens in Pakistan and its strong ties with foreign terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and others.

Amid intensified war on many battlegrounds across the country and the scaling up of Taliban’s violence in the form of target killings, attacks on schools, health facilities, and electric transmission facilities, any person with a reasonably sound state of mind would see the Taliban as serious trouble-makers.

However, cross-referencing these facts with realities of the post-2001 Afghanistan, the Taliban may be able to continue their violence and exert military pressure on the Afghan government, but they stand no chance of a military takeover. The Taliban were and still are a military outfit with ties to transnational terrorist organizations which lacks vision as well as the capacity for running the country. Their entire strength is less than one per cent of the nearly 34 million Afghan population.

On the other hand, advocates and supporters of the US and NATO troops withdrawal not only look at the social, political and economic advancements that the people of Afghanistan have made, with the support of international community, since toppling of the Taliban regime, but also how withdrawal of international troops could delegitimize Taliban’s war and pave the ground for a political settlement.

In an Op Ed for Foreign Affairs Magazine on May 4th, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani expressed his opinion about President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and welcomed it as an opportunity. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has demonstrated its commitment to a political settlement through intra-Afghan dialogue and peace negotiations by taking several bold and courageous decisions.

During Kabul Conference in February 2018, months before the US had engaged in direct talk with the Taliban, President Ghani announced the Afghan government’s readiness for peace negotiations with the Taliban without any pre-conditions. Later on, that same year, the Commander in Chief announced a unilaterally ‘three-day ceasefire’. Having perpetuated violence and caused so much destruction over the last 17 years, the Taliban had no choice but to reciprocate. It was a brief moment of contemplation and rejoice that did not last due mainly to the Taliban’s resumption of violence.

To further demonstrate its commitment to peace, the Afghan government convened a Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) of more than 3000 elected and selected representatives from across 34 provinces. After two days of deliberations, the grand assembly issued a 23-article communique which was adopted as government peace roadmap.

By this time, the former US administration led by President Trump had ordered its top diplomats to start direct talks with the Taliban. After months of rigorous deliberations and heated negotiations, when the US and the Taliban finally reached an agreement, it was hard for both of them to implement it without the support of the Afghan government.

Pursuant to the Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the US as well as the US-Taliban agreement, the Afghan government made one of the most difficult decisions by releasing up to 6,100 Taliban prisoners. This was again sheer act of goodwill and a reiteration of its commitment to peace.

The current peace process, which represents a historic opportunity to bring the more than four decades of war to a peaceful end, is the result of the price in blood that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces have paid and the compromises that the Afghan government has made.

It is the Taliban who are acting under orders issued by their masters and sponsors. Peace is the foremost desire and the decades long hopes of all Afghans, which the Taliban continue to disregard by not heeding calls for meaningful engagement in peace negotiations in Doha and by intensifying their violence across the country.

What Lies Ahead for Afghanistan?

For peace to sustain and be durable in Afghanistan, it is imperative to build such a peace on the advancements, the people of Afghanistan have made in the past 20 years. The country has made vast progress in access to education and healthcare, improved infrastructure, freedom of expression and women’s participation in all areas of public life. The Afghan people have sacrificed greatly for this progress and it is clear that they want these gains to be protected and advanced further.

Peace efforts in Afghanistan also require an inclusive approach, involving all strands of society. In particular, it is crucial to promote the full involvement of youth, women, minorities and war victims, ensuring that their voices are represented at all levels of negotiations. While forming an inclusive negotiating team has been an important step in this direction, it is crucial that all sections of Afghan society feel represented and involved in the peace process – a process that fosters social cohesion and strengthens the negotiating position of the Islamic Republic.

Regional and international actors too must take appropriate measure at their disposal and use their diplomatic and other forms of leverage for not just securing a reduction in violence, but also pressurise the Taliban to engage meaningfully and cordially in peace negotiations.

Sooner or later, peace will have to be brought to Afghanistan because there is no military solution to this conflict. The people and the government of Afghanistan are on the right side of history. Which side of history are the Taliban and the international community on, is yet to be seen.

Source: Chanakya Forum