Waseem Abbas Bagoro
Zalmay Khalilzad, American special representative for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, is hopeful that he will succeed in reaching a final settlement of the Afghan fiasco. Later this month, along with a senior official from US state department, he visited Pakistan to make arrangements of the final round of talks which, hopefully, will start in Qatar after Eid-ul-Adha. This round of peace talks is a microcosm of the larger scheme of negotiations which started last year to end the Afghan fiasco for once and all, and this is the sixth round in this regard. The United States of America (USA) is exhausted with the battle it is fighting in Afghanistan for the last 18 years. It has failed to achieve any major achievement despite pouring $55 bn annually in the war, not to mention the causalities on both sides. Pakistan, on the other side, has lost 70,000 of its citizens in this war. The strategic, economic, infrastructural, and diplomatic damages it endured are also substantial. The power-brokers entangled in this fiasco are not as adamant as they used to be in the past about the negotiations. In Doha talks, in February this year, the Afghan Taliban directly negotiated with the US representative about the settlement of the crisis. Other actors are also trying their best to solve this fiasco, i.e. Russia also held a peace talk, in March 2019, between different sections of Afghan society including Taliban, ex-president Karzai, and few others to reach a settlement. The only hitch in the success of this scheme is the exclusion of the Afghan government from all such talks. Although peace in Afghanistan is indispensable, America and Pakistan, however, need to act cautiously to make ensure that the Taliban are demilitarized and the minorities and the women rights are safeguarded in future Afghanistan.
Afghan Taliban does not recognize the legitimacy of the Afghan government. They accuse the government in Kabul of being no more than mere foreign pawns. It, therefore, denies negotiating with them (government) about any future settlement of the crisis. It, only, is willing to negotiate with the foreign powers who could ensure its demands are met. Zalmay Khalilzad, however, reinstated his vision in a tweet after holding talks with the Taliban, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and “everything” must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire. The American establishment, on the other side, is looking so keen to leave Afghanistan that it agreed to the Taliban’s demand of not including the Afghan government in the peace talks. One can raise eyebrows on the credibility of such a settlement in which the elected government of the land is sidelined from participating in it. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has already warned that “any deal his government has not directly negotiated cannot be accepted.” He recently has called an All Afghanistan Loya Jirga which will outline the position of the Afghan government and the groups opposing US-Taliban talks. If America wants a long-lasting peace in Afghanistan, it should make sure that the consent of the Afghan government is achieved before making any final draft of the peace talks. If this proper pattern of negotiations is not followed and power is handed to the ostensibly powerful, possibilities are that many other usurper groups will also emerge in Afghanistan to challenge the writ of the state.
If America leaves Afghanistan without devising a power-sharing formula, the Taliban will seize the power unequivocally. If the Taliban are permitted to unilaterally control the power corridors, they will create havoc in Afghanistan much like in the line of what they did in the early 1990s after Soviet expulsion. The international actors involved in the negotiations, therefore, need to devise ways to completely demilitarize the Taliban after the United States’s impending departure from Afghanistan. If they are allowed to remain as an independent military force, they will create a state within the state which will result in a catastrophe. Incorporating the erstwhile militants into the Afghan forces and other state institutions could be a working way, as they have experience in running the militias and other independent institutions. It must also be ensured that after an autonomous Afghan government is formed, all the groups will accept the legitimacy of that government and disarm itself.
There must be special provisions to safeguard the women’s rights and the life and property of the ethnic and religious minorities, like, Shia Hazaras in the wake of any settlement. Zalmay Khalilzad describes American plans as “Washington has a responsibility and wants to end this war responsibly and leave a good legacy behind”. On the one hand the desire to leave a legacy behind, while on the other hand, to pass the power to the militants without ensuring the rights of women and minorities would be like mixing apples with oranges. The Taliban must not be allowed to forcefully impose its conservative version of Islam in the wake of any settlement which unnecessarily restricts women’s activities, forces them only to stay at homes, and any breach of such a code is punished inhumanly. One-third of invitees of the Ashraf Ghani’s ‘Loya Jirga’ are women which is an indication that the Afghan people are not going to accept the imposition of Taliban’s fraudulent moral and social codes in Afghanistan. Moreover, keeping in mind the harsh reality that thousands of the Shia Hazaras were persecuted during Afghan unrest in the 1980s by the extremist Mujahedeen factions and later in 1998 in Mazar Sharif by the Taliban government, the security and free movement of the ethnic Hazara community must be ensured with urgency.
In order to make these negotiations feasible and meaningful, all the actors involved in it must act prudently. America and Pakistan, as the leading negotiators, should consult Russia, China, the Afghan government, and other actors to bolster the credibility of the talks. The Afghan Taliban need to stop its intransigence in Afghanistan, and across the border in Pakistan, so that a conducive environment for talks could develop. Pakistan, which helped in resuming the peace talks by releasing a senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar from its jail, need to stick to its positive role in the future too. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent statement regarding Afghan peace process was too apt to overlook where he stated unambiguously that peace in Afghanistan is in the vast interests of Pakistan and only it (peace in Afghanistan) can guarantee peace in Pakistan. All the preliminary requirements for conducive talks are available on the table, the actors involved in negotiations, therefore, should not hesitate in ending this debacle for once and all. Be fearful of the day when Donald Trump would tweet his way to an abrupt pull-out from the negotiations.
The contributor is a student of LUMS, class of 2021.