Peace in Afghanistan Must be a Process

Peace in Afghanistan must be a process. As a first step, the Afghan government and Taliban must build mutual trust and confidence by reaching a cease-fire.

afghanistan-peace-processWhile tension between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the US government are in full effect, The New York Times reported Karzai’s secret talks with the Taliban.

Tensions heightened when Karzai refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), a security pact will would allow the United States to own as many as nine military bases in Afghanistan and grant immunity to US military personnel from persecution under the Afghan law.

Karzai refused this arrangement despite receiving approval from the Loya Jirga  a “Grand Council” and organic and democratic Afghan institution and cultural event which meets to consult and make important decisions of importance to the Afghan people. Although Karzai has not unequivocally refused to sign the agreement, he maintains that the conditions should be met before the deal makes any headway.

President Karzai pledged to start peace talks with Taliban during his presidential campaign in 2009. As result, the High Peace Council (HPC) was set up by Karzai to work toward a political solution to the decade-long war in 2010. However, these efforts suffered a harsh blow when a Taliban suicide bomber assassinated the former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani who headed the HPC for almost a year trying to end the bloody war through negotiating a political settlement with the Taliban.

Trust eroded

The assassination of Rabbani did not deter the Afghan government to negotiate a peace deal with Taliban; however it certainly demolished the trust between the two sides. The Taliban continuously refused to negotiate a peace deal with the Afghan government blaming it for not having a proper road map for peace and autonomy in its decisions. Instead, the Taliban preferred to negotiate directly with the US government considering Washington as the main rival.

Washington and Kabul struggled to negotiate a peace deal with Taliban. To this end, in June 2013, the US assisted the Taliban to open an office in Qatar to give Afghan and Western peace negotiators an “address” where authentic Taliban intermediaries could be contacted openly for peace negotiation.

However, not long after, the Taliban closed their Qatar office accusing the Afghan and US government for broken promises. Both the United States and President Karzai objected to the name and flag of the Taliban office and thus, halted the peace negotiation.

President Karzai’s secret talks with the Taliban

According The New York Times, President Karzai has held secret talks with Taliban expecting to reach a political settlement before his term ends. Yet reaching a political settlement does not seem possible in Afghanistan’s current circumstances. Karzai has few more months to go, and in April 2014, the popular presidential election will take place.

The president palace will have a new leader with new policies and strategies. Thus, expecting a peace deal at this stage may seem too ambitious.

However, the current secret talks may lead to a cease-fire between the Taliban and Afghan government, which is more likely, and of immense importance for upcoming elections, if reached.  But,of course, the Afghan people are not in the favor of short-term peace deal or cease-fire. For Afghans, sustainable peace is vital and of immense importance.

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Path towards sustainable peace in Afghanistan

In a war-weary country, peace is the most precious commodity massively desired by Afghans. Peace in Afghanistan has regional and Afghan folds. It is highly critical for the Afghan government to attract regional genuine and authentic support for the peace process in Afghanistan.

In particular, Pakistan is known as a genuine negotiating channel with the Taliban by the Afghan government and people. Taliban leaders are based in Pakistan, and the Pakistan government has significant influence over the Taliban.

However, President Karzai’s attempts during his 12 year tenure failed to convince Pakistan to take a productive part in the Afghan peace process.  Yet the new Afghan government which will replace President Karzai in April 2014 should use regional and international bonds such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and UN Security Council to persuade Pakistan to encourage the Taliban to negotiate peace with the Afghan government.

Moreover, the next Afghan government should use its strategic partners like the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Turkey to help Afghanistan in reaching a sustainable peace with Taliban. On the Afghan side, it is crucial for Kabul to combat corruption, boost the economy and improve good governance, and develop a sound strategy for peace.

It is very important to note that peace in Afghanistan must be a process and not a deal.

Afghanistan has witnessed terrible experiences of faltering peace when Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai, former president of Afghanistan, was assassinated by Taliban after signing a peace deal with the anti-Soviet Afghan fighters (mujahideen) in 1992. The peace deal resulted entirely antagonistic to the expectation of President Najibullah; the deal did not bring the greatest peace as anticipated. Miserably, it paved the way for civil war, and Taliban and Al-Qaeda domination.

Learning from the past, the Afghan government must not repeat history by signing a peace deal with Taliban.

Peace in Afghanistan must be a process. To this end, the Afghan government and Taliban must build mutual trust and confidence by reaching a cease-fire as a first step. The Taliban should enter into a peace process by giving up their weapons to the Afghan government and accepting the Afghan constitution which would ensure that the achievements of the past 12 years are not sacrificed.

The Afghan government should carry out the Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration program to provide the Taliban with an opportunity to reintegrate into civilian life. Of course, to join a peace process, Taliban has various reservations about the Afghan constitution and government structure which can be negotiated and solved once set on the negotiating table.

Ahmad Hasib Farhan is a graduate of Kabul University and holds a Master degree from Japan in Public Policy and Economics. Farhan is an Afghan analyst and commentator on political and socio-economic affairs in Afg-Pak region. Farhan is based in Kabul and can be reached at haseebnadiri@gmail.com.