Peace has become elusive for Kabul as it took many years to persuade the resistance forces to join the dialogue process and shun violence but the efforts have largely proved unsuccessful. After a number of intermittent deadly strikes in Kabul during the last few weeks, the Afghan government decided to take the lead in the peace process. In this context, the Afghan government, on Tuesday, June 06, hosted the Kabul Process International Conference on ‘Peace and Security Cooperation’.
Ashraf Ghani, however, has faced stiff resistance from his coalition partners. Internal rifts and tensions between Jamiat-e-Islami and the National Unity Government have soared to such an extent that the acting Minister for Foreign Affairs; Salah ud Din Rabbani, who should have played a leading role in hosting the Conference and receiving the delegates, did not attend the meet. Despite heightened security concerns, the Afghan government managed to convince the representatives of 28 countries and international organizations to attend the conference.
Unlike previous peace initiatives, the Kabul Process aims to bring the Afghan government in the driving seat of the peacemaking initiatives. The Afghan government sees the striking of peace deal with Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan as solely their own success and an example to streamline the other resistance groups in a similar manner.
President Ashraf Ghani delivered a keynote speech and besides raising other issues, also gave ultimatum to the Taliban to join the peace process. President Ghani, as usual, pointed finger at Pakistan and talked bluntly about the Kabul-Islamabad relations. President Ghani held, “Today, we have gathered here, to unite against terrorism and to show that we want peace; we have the capacity to bring peace and that we are honest about peace. If there is agreement to develop a peace roadmap acceptable to both sides, the Afghan government would allow the Taliban to open a representative office.”
His remarks, indeed, clarify the intentions behind the new initiative to handle the Taliban as well as the ways to hold talks with them.
It is also to be noted here that since the formation of the NUG in 2014, ending the Afghan war, strengthening the Afghan forces and the peace process were the pillars of the foreign policy of Afghanistan. To undertake measures for the peace process, the Afghan President embarked on a string of foreign trips – from China to Saudi Arabia and to Pakistan. And, in order to have Pakistan’s assistance in the peace process, he apparently gave Pakistan a freehand to be pivotal in bringing peace to Afghanistan. Hence, apparently, Kabul’s peace strategy relied largely on Pakistan, and even talks were held in Murree in July 2015 but the news of Mullah Omar’s death sabotaged the whole process.
Moreover, the trilateral efforts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China were another initiative launched to promote the peace process; the Urumqi talks are prognosis of this initiative. Efforts were also put in to include the Taliban in these discussions because in the Urumqi talks, the Afghan Taliban had no representation. There were several informal meetings held involving Afghan government officials, Pakistani representatives and Chinese acting as a host. The only achievement that the Afghan government had from the whole development was the Murree talks.
Later in December 2015, peace talks started under Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), which comprised Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US, and five meetings were held in Kabul and Islamabad. The process was nearing success in persuading the Taliban for negotiations that, in May 2016, their leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in Noshki area of Balochistan in a drone attack by the US. Although the US was a member of the QCG, it played the role of game-spoiler by killing the Taliban Chief. Hence, the way for direct talks was impeded once again.
The Afghan government believes that the main reason for the failure of this process was the fact that instead of giving the Taliban a proper representation, they invited them through Pakistan and threatened to take steps against them in case they did not come up to the negotiations. Although Pakistan tried to persuade Taliban but the death of Mullah Mansour dashed the hopes for the success of the peace process.
The first conference of the Kabul Process was held five months after the Moscow trilateral process which was announced in December 2016. The Moscow Process regarding the Afghan peace began after the realization of the rising ISIS threat in Afghanistan and the failure of NATO forces to curb the outfit. Although, at first, the Afghan government criticized this process, after inclusion of other regional actors, it also participated in the meetings of the initiative.
The point of concern here is that how the Afghan government went for solo flight and undervalued the influence and role of regional players to bring peace to Afghanistan. There was already a Russian Initiative going on – of which Afghanistan was a member – but it launched its own movement. One may recall the absence of US and NATO in the Russian process, which is inassimilable to the American policymakers and NATO member states. Moreover, the growing role of Russia in Afghanistan in the name of peace will not be acceptable to the United States. It has already alleged Russia of underestimating the role of NATO in Afghanistan by launching this process.
The launching of the Kabul Process reflects that United States is behind the whole gambit. It can also be judged from the reality that the Conference was held a few days after the deadly bombings and blasts in Kabul on May 31, and was made successful.
The Ghani administration could have never done it on its own in these circumstances without the covert American support.
The conference has been termed successful, yet there are no signals from the Afghan Taliban to participate in the process. Another challenge to the process maybe the growing internal rifts among the coalition partners in the NUG. The attack on the funeral of a son of Jamiat-e-Islami leader and Deputy Head of the Upper House of the Afghan Parliament, who was killed by the police during a protest, has further deteriorated the situation. CEO Dr Abdullah Abdullah and other leaders were there on the occasion but they, fortunately, escaped injuries.
The most pressing need of the time for Ashraf Ghani is to put his own house in order and strengthen unity among various Afghan factions in his NUG; instead of starting new movements. In current scenario, the government seems vulnerable and Taliban may not heed to its call, rather they will focus on gaining more influence and boost up their presence on ground.