Afghan Peace Process
… as Afghan President sees it!
On August 13, President of Afghanistan, Dr Ashraf Ghani, during a virtual session with James B. Cunningham at the Council on Foreign Relations, shared his thoughts on various aspects of the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan. In this conversation, Dr Ghani elaborated the recent developments ranging from the decision of Loya Jirga to release Taliban prisoners and the role of regional countries, especially Pakistan, in kick-starting negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government to the future place of his country in this region. Following are some important excerpts from this lengthy conversation.
Loya Jirga’s decision to release Taliban prisoners
A great tribute to the collective wisdom of the Afghan people, the Loya Jirga, our grand council, has resolved what legally could not be resolved. We released 4,600 prisoners from the Taliban list, and then an additional 500 people on our own conviction. But 400 posed serious constitutional and legal issues. But the moral basis that the Loya Jirga provided in a consensus of 3,400 Afghan men and women has given us an opportunity to break the last deadlock. And we hope that during this process, we’ll be able to resolve the conflict politically. The key goal for the Afghan people is to bring an end to violence that has haunted us for 40 years. And we are preparing that one team is representing a national perspective. And in addition, the Loya Jirga has provided the framework regarding the values and key parameters, which enable us to talk to the Taliban.
Future of Negotiations with Taliban
The real question relates to the willingness, capability, and desire of the Taliban to truly embrace a political solution. During the negotiations, we are going to find out. The test is to be able to get a comprehensive ceasefire as soon as possible and to be able to talk about a political framework, which would bring the participation of the Taliban within Afghan society and politics.
Afghanistan is a society that has immense skills in conflict resolution. The test is going to be once we encounter and sit with each other. The other is the role of the region and the international community. What we have nationally is a very strong consensus and a political capital that has been generated by the will of the people in the Loya Jirga. We convened the Loya Jirga within four days. The Loya Jirga decided the central question in two days. That shows the Afghan society can assemble and express itself.
Second is that we have an agreement with the international community, particularly with the United States, on the end state of the talks—a sovereign, united and democratic Afghanistan that would be at peace with itself and the world. Until now, there’s been a lot of pressure, requests from the Afghan government. Now, the balance shifts as we’ve taken all the risks because we are a state. We would not have been a party to agreement to release 5,000 Taliban unless out of the imperative of wanting peace in the conviction. We did it. Now we hope that all the actors will come together in the region again. We’ve built this consensus. It will show whether the desire for a stable Afghanistan, that would be in everybody’s interest, prevails over more short-term ideas and views, and whether the Taliban will now prove themselves capable of politics, and imaginative and constructive politics, or not. The question is open.
Role of Pakistan
The billion dollar question is regarding Pakistan, where again, with constructive discussions, the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, came to Kabul. The key issue is how the region conceives its importance. We aspire to have a stabler Afghanistan and we’ve coined a new term, a multi-aligned Afghanistan. An unaligned Afghanistan is not possible but a multi-aligned Afghanistan is, we’re friends. We have the greatest friends, a number of friends, and don’t get involved in the disputes among our friends and neighbours and do not allow our territory to be used against any of them. This can be an anchor for stability. This possibility has been acknowledged. Equally, the other side is acknowledging that an unstable Afghanistan or, God forbid, an Afghanistan that is plunged into a vicious civil war or internal conflict, could do substantial harm to its neighbours. This balance is what we need, and the heart of the strategy and tactics is to be able to bring this balance. I think it’s necessary to allow us to move forward.
Afghanistan and region’s future
Our diplomacy has been constructive and effective. But, the future role of the United States in the region is, again, a conditioning, if not the determining, factor that affects both our relationships and the relationships of the neighbours with each other. On the positive side, there is an immense interest in regional connectivity, the agenda of regional connectivity. And, I’d like to thank Mr. Boehler, and the Development Finance Corporation has been very engaged in this process. There are huge projects for the first time. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline is being constructed in Afghanistan. The energy corridors and the transit corridors are really moving forward. There’s also coordination now with Pakistan. They are a corridor with India, and we are now connected with 50 countries. This is one side of the equation. If you’re seeing the great Asian transformation, where Asia is being changed from a notional geographic cultural construct to a literal economic continent, like the United States in the first three quarters of the 19th century, then Afghanistan’s stability becomes very much a part of a larger agenda. On the other side are atavistic habits, notions of a lack of consensus on a Westphalian system, state responsibility in interference.
We are at that critical moment, we’re doing our best. And then the other issue that is both one of unity and one of potential risk is the question of terrorists. We have, with you [Americans]—and we are very close, and that’s why I pay tribute to the American heroes that have died for your security and our freedom—been dealing with a phenomenon that has not found a solution. What’s the utility of force? What is the limit of force? And how do you bring a policy that can truly eliminate the danger of terrorism? This is not the first wave. This is the fifth wave in 150 years. Those questions are interrelated. So, on the positive side of the balance, there is an immense opportunity for cooperation. On the negative, the threats could bring us together, or may take time to converge again into a regional consensus on security.
Future political relationship with Pakistan
The fundamental question again is interest. A stable Afghanistan and an Afghanistan in peace could bring one to two percent of additional rate of growth first. Gen Bajwa thinks, like me, and Prime Minister Imran Khan, and they are aligned, for region, not countries. And, of course, India’s rise and its prosperity is something that is extremely important for all of us. Pakistan needs to ask itself some main questions regarding its influence. One, does a Taliban brand government serve its interest? Second, what type of a government in Afghanistan would enable the return of two to four million refugees? That is a priority question. Three, what type of government would be able to undertake the very large projects of connectivity that could be beneficial? And, on the negative side, if events spin out of control in Afghanistan, what would be the cost to Pakistan? Pakistan is the country that would be most adversely affected by, God forbid, a downward trend in Afghanistan internally, given its priorities. And, as Prime Minister Khan and I both are focused on poverty eradication as our central challenge, how would we be able to bring a framework that can deal with this, given Corona, given the economic downturn, and others?
Today’s Pakistan was an inherent part of a larger economic region with Central Asia and West Asia. Can it acquire that type of dynamism? And lastly, a stable Afghanistan, hopefully, will open the way for resolution of fundamental issues with India that would enable all of us in the region to benefit from what is clearly unintelligible and that is, because of political differences in perceptions, we are unable to utilize and put to the service of our people.