Quest for Peace in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is notoriously difficult to conquer, primarily due to three factors. First, it is situated at the crossroads of South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. It has been invaded many times and is settled by a plethora of tribes, many mutually antagonistic and hostile to each other and outsiders. Second, due to the frequency of invasion and the prevalence of tribalism, lawlessness here led to a situation where almost every village or house was built like a fortress. Third, its difficult terrain and landscape render it hard to conquer. Including the Hindu Kush mountain range, which runs through the centre and south of the country, and the Pamir Mountains in the east, Afghanistan is dominated by a number of jagged mountains. With little understanding of its land, the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, after the 9/11 incident. Approximately, 3500 American and allied troops have been killed in this war that has cost almost $800 billion in finances as well.
The Peace Deal
After months of negotiations, the United States and the Afghan Taliban signed a peace deal in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020, to bring an end to the long war in Afghanistan. Both sides have long wrangled over the US demand for a ceasefire before the signing of the agreement, which had following main points:
A timeline of 14 months for the withdrawal of all US and Nato troops from Afghanistan;
Taliban guarantee that Afghan soil will not be used for terrorism that would intimidate the security of the US and its allies;
the commencement of intra-Afghan talks;
release of 5000 Taliban prisoners;
lifting of UN and US sanctions against the Taliban; and
a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
US-Taliban deal is premised on many assumptions that make its success problematic. The implicitly that Taliban will not let anyone to use the Afghan soil for terrorism against the United States and its allies indicates that the US has acknowledged the Taliban as a principal stakeholder in Afghan government—it changes Taliban’s status from one of the groups in the future Afghanistan government to the dominant actor. In this way, the deal relegates the Afghan government to a lower level vis-à-vis the Taliban which can make intra-Afghan negotiations very knotty and complicated, and can weigh the negotiations in the favour of Taliban.
The Intra-Afghan Talks
After 19 long years of wait, the Afghans have finally engaged in peace talks that could possibly end the two-decade-long war in which tens of thousands of causalities of civilians occurred and millions were displaced. On 12 September 2020, representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban met in Doha, Qatar, amid hopes that the two sides will eventually agree to form a power-sharing government. The inaugural ceremony was attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chairman Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and senior diplomats of a number of countries, in addition to the Afghan government and Taliban delegations. Besides this, 17 foreign ministers of different countries and heads of inter-governmental bodies virtually attended the session. The paramount agenda on the table is a way to enforce a ceasefire. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo termed the talks a “truly momentous” breakthrough, while the head of Afghanistan’s Peace Council, Abdullah Abdullah, called it an “exceptional opportunity for peace”.
Despite the fact that Taliban are negotiating on an Islamic governance system—the demand may also be acceptable to Afghan government—whether Kabul will seek assurances from the Taliban on matters such as women and minority rights and press freedoms is yet to be seen. These are the liberties which many Afghans value and resisted the Taliban for. Additionally, there is also uncertainty over constitutional changes and the future government setup which can accommodate the Taliban—they have so far refused to participate in any democratic process, but rather have desired to establish an Islamic system in Afghanistan as was the case during the Taliban rule (1996-2001). At that time, women were not allowed to do jobs and men were compelled to wear beards. Furthermore, how ‘complete ceasefire’ issue will be dealt under the intra-Afghan talks is another thorny issue as the attacks have been reported in more than a dozen provinces while delegates were negotiating in Doha.
Implications for Pakistan
It is an irrefutable fact of the regional history that unrest or violence in Afghanistan always affects Pakistan, directly or indirectly. This is in the common interest of both Pakistan and Afghanistan to restore peace and bring stability in the region. The US-led Nato occupation led to negative security implications for Pakistan from which it is still suffering. If the US withdraws from Afghanistan after facilitating a rapprochement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, it is highly likely that peace would prevail not only in Afghanistan but also in the whole region. However, if the US withdraws without succeeding to achieve a rapprochement, the clouds of civil wars will keep hovering over the region. If the civil war originates in Afghanistan, there would possibly be another influx of refugees which will be an unbearable burden on the dwindling economy of Pakistan, and law and order situation here would be worse.
President Trump seems in a hurry and wants to withdraw US forces at the earliest possible date. But, it will have multiple implications on Pakistan as highlighted above. As stated by Barry Buzan, the security of nations situated inside a specific geographical region is attached with one another and any weakness inside one specific nation can spread to different nations of a specific security complex. In this state of affairs, Pakistan should exert pressure on the United States and its allies to make intra-Afghan talks successful by supporting the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process.
If the US and allies exit from Afghanistan like the Soviet Union did during the Cold War, the after-effects would be drastic not only for Afghanistan but also for Pakistan and the whole region. Thus, keeping in view the interests of Afghan people who have been suffering from this prolonged war, the US must take calculated measures seeking peace in the country and beyond. Last but not least, if intra-Afghan negotiations succeed, the US and its Nato allies should launch ‘Afghanistan Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program’ for the social integration of refugees and the Afghan people who suffered a lot in this destructive war. Also, there should be ‘economic plans’ for the revival of Afghan economy which got badly damaged in this “war of terror”.
The author is a member of staff.