There seems to be little acknowledgment of the fact that a successful negotiating process with the conflicting parties in Afghanistan requires a strong understanding of their facts, the way they function, and their intentions and aims.
The aim of the Taliban is to rule over Afghanistan and implement a new narrative of Jihad. This is due to similar reasons that many other international terrorist organizations emerging in Afghanistan. The likes of which also include: the powerful Islamic State of Khurasan (IS-K) that emerged in the year 2014 in Afghanistan. The IS-K group consists of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), senior members from Khyber Agency and Orakzai Agency of Pakistan. However, the war in Afghanistan has entered a strategic stalemate where none of the parties have been able to gain military victories in the Afghan conflict.
One possible resolution could be a regional consensus on the conflict, where the possibility of terror spilling over into other countries is feasible. More than five years after the drawing back of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s troops, the security situation and violence in Afghanistan remains constant but, for sure violence will stop if regional countries support the Afghan government. There should be strong backing from China and Russia, as they are responsible great powers in the region. The US should maintain mutual trust and win-win cooperation strategies by collaborating with China and Russia to defeat terrorism in the region.
Standalone military solutions are not momentarily possible or cost effective, and any such approaches are therefore less significant to the US working with others is the only option. In order to defeat the Taliban and IS-K militarily the US should work with neighboring countries, especially the regional powers. But regional actors and the Afghan government In particular need to shift their focus on to the security situation inside Afghanistan.
With waning global focus on Afghan imbroglio the conflicting interests of different external and internal players continue to undermine a peaceful settlement to the issue. Though the majority of neighboring countries are willing to support an Afghan-owned Afghan-led peace process for the settlement of the issue, China and Pakistan reinforce peace with the Taliban as an Afghan peace. Previously, the International community had launched several programs to integrate the Taliban into Afghan society but most of these programs failed miserably due to one reason or another. These programs involved disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR 2003-2006). However, not all the warlords who fought against the Taliban during the 90s disarmed themselves.
Another program included the United Nations supported “Afghanistan New Beginnings Program” (ANBP), which also included the disbandment of the illegal Armed Group (DIAG 2005) .Such other initiatives as launched by the International community failed to solve the problem of Afghanistan. The foundations laid during the first Bonn Conference over Afghanistan in the year 2002 wasn’t favoring all the groups belonging to Afghanistan but, selective groups, with one in particular which has benefited most from that process. The idea of political negotiation and peace reconciliation with the Taliban has seen much assistance from regional countries especially China, Pakistan, Russia, and US.
However there are some reports indicating that Russia developed linkages with the Taliban through Pakistan; Russia have their own strategic interest in Afghanistan and they continue to play such connections against IS-K and to maintain Central Asian Republics (CAR’s) security at any cost, though for the Afghan government this could be a winning opportunity to convince Russians to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Islamic State of Khurasan (IS-K) factor
ISIS gained support in Afghanistan and Pakistan shortly after it declared its “Caliphate” in June 2014. A contingent of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehrik-e-Taliban or TTP, formed ISIS’s most important support base in the region. The TTP splintered rapidly after the death of its leader Hakimullah Mehsud in November 2013. The then TTP’s spokesman Shahidullah Shahid privately offered his allegiance to ISIS several times during this period. Shahidullah might have maintained links to a senior member of ISIS’s predecessor Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which could have encouraged TTP’s decision.
The former Pakistani Taliban have continuously been operating in the areas of Nangarhar and other parts of Afghanistan, reaching as far as the Northern part of the country. To my knowledge, as the Pakistani Taliban joined the IS-K wing, the Afghan Taliban might for all intents and purposes do the same in case regional countries do not play an active role in the Afghan peace process.
These Afghan Taliban will be assimilated into the IS group of Khurasan. Peace and reconciliation with this group will backfire and there will be no need to have peace with the IS-K, as it’s not an Afghan oriented group (most of these people are Arabs, Chechens, Uyghur, Uzbeks and Tajiks from the Central Asian Republics). The Afghan government will not be responsible to make a peace with all these Central Asian inhabitants as they do not belong to Afghanistan; Afghans will have peace and peace talks with Afghans.
There are 20 militant groups operating in Afghanistan, at the same time the country’s security is not only fighting the Afghan battle but joining the greater regional and International wars against terrorism. In this respect Afghanistan can be considered the “frontline state against the war on terrorism”. These fundamentalist terror groups are not only the problem of Afghanistan. They are a collective problem. They can pose a risk to CARs, China, Pakistan, Russia, Iran and India in the future. It’s not just a domestic issue to be dealt by Afghanistan alone; it’s a regional issue and should be dealt with accordingly on a regional basis. The warning level of the threat should be higher than we expect, as all regional countries need to work on one policy directed at eliminating the danger inside Afghanistan, hence the danger to them.
In the past year the Taliban have abandoned attacking the Afghan civilian population and the Afghan government. On the other hand IS-K has carried out multiple attacks on Shia sect inside Afghanistan and the overall infrastructure of the Afghan government is damaged .This shows that the Taliban are willing to have peace with the Afghan government and are not simple terrorists at face value.
Peace is possible with a regional policy towards Afghanistan. At the moment every country has a different approach to the pressing issues inside Afghanistan.
Every country is on a different page in regard to its Afghanistan policy.
The US have their own agenda of containing Russia and China, China and Russia are playing the same game to prevent the spread of US influence in the region both militarily and economically.
This trust deficit between China, Russia and the US have to be resolved through diplomatic channels if Afghanistan is to see solid result wielding support.
Furthermore, given the deep-seated domestic, regional and International issues surrounding the Afghan conflict, the transition to a peaceful state is expected to be much more complex, lengthy, and varied process. Increased insecurity and instability in the region has a direct link with insecurity in Afghanistan, the motivation of which is to locally and Internationally pursue a more comprehensive mechanism of strategy to end the conflict. While conflict remains constant, different parties visualize their own solutions, because these parties all have their own geopolitical interests. The US and their allies will not secure their interests if Afghanistan continues to be embroiled in an increasing instability.
It’s necessary to have a shared vision for a peaceful Afghan state and build indigenous capability to accomplish this goal.
*Ihsanullah Omarkhail, Ex-Consultant, Studies MA International Relations at Zhejiang University, China He can be reached at [email protected], he tweets on @ihsan_asif
Abdul Wali Arian. “20 Terrorist Groups Fighting Against Afghan Government.” Tolo News, 2017. http://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/20-terrorist-groups-fighting-against-afghan-government.
Bradley, Matt. “ISIS Declares New Islamist Caliphate.” Wall Street Journal, 2014. https://www.wsj.com/articles/isis-declares-new-islamist-caliphate-1404065263.
Casey Garret Johnson. “The Rise and Stall of the Islamic State in Afghanistan.” Washington DC, 2016. https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR395-The-Rise-and-Stall-of-the-Islamic-State-in-Afghanistan.pdf.
Euan McKirdy, Ehsan Popalzai. “ISIS Suicide Bombing in Kabul Kills Dozens.” CNN. 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/28/asia/kabul-attack-intl/index.html.
Katryan Watson. “Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Says War ‘still in a Stalemate.’” CBS News, 2017. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/top-u-s-commander-in-afghanistan-says-effort-is-still-in-a-stalemate/.
Matt Waldman. “‘Golden Surrender?’ Discussion Paper 03.” Afghan Analysis Network, 2010. http://www.operationspaix.net/DATA/DOCUMENT/4792~v~Golden_%0ASurrender__The_Risks_Challenges_and_Implications_of_Reintegration_in_Afghanistan.p%0Adf.
Meng Qingsheng. “Chinese FM: Afghanistan and Pakistan Agreed to Improve Bilateral Ties.” CGTN, 2017. https://news.cgtn.com/news/314d544d34637a6333566d54/share_p.html.
Quie, Marissa. “Peace-Building and Democracy Promotion in Afghanistan : The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme and Reconciliation with the Taliban.” Routledge 347, no. October (2017): 554–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2012.674362.
Samuel Ramani. “Understanding the Russia-Taliban Connection.” The diplomat, 2017. https://thediplomat.com/2017/08/understanding-the-russia-taliban-connection/.
SITE Intelligence Group. “TTP Spokesman Shahidullah, Five Officials Allegedly Pledge to IS,” 2014.