Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, who is called a “philosopher king” by many, has considerable admiration among top political groups and experts on the domestic front. He is a PhD holder in Anthropology, has had years of education at top US universities, and career experience at World Bank and with the United Nations. In 2014 he was ranked the second among “world thinkers of 2013” by Britain Prospect magazine.
Since Ghani come into power, he has made a number of controversial decisions through which he won the hearts and minds of local populations across Afghanistan. Aiming for peace, in Kabul Process Meetings, President Ghani put the ball in the hands of the Taliban itself. He gave them power choose their destiny on their own, even allowing that the Taliban would have their own office in Kabul, their families be resettled in peace, and they would have passports. Ghani’s proposal is that Taliban prisoners be released, significant Taliban figures be free of sanctions, the names of top commanders be removed from United Nations international terrorist blacklists, and Taliban will be recognized as a legitimate political group. This showed strongly Ghani’s realistic and serious willingness of reconciliation with the Taliban and was wholeheartedly welcomed in Afghanistan and worldwide.
Ghani’s government announced a temporary unconditional ceasefire with Taliban, demanding an end to the war in Afghanistan for the holy days of Eid. The truce of Eid al Fitr with Taliban brought unexpected things, such as for the first time the Afghan Army and Taliban fighters offered Eid prayer together. The Taliban wearing their black turbans were taking selfies with Afghan Army. Government official took this opportunity to visit places and see people they had not seen for many years. Taliban fighters, while holding white flags, entered into the cities. Taliban militia and the Afghan Army were handing roses to one another. The three days of Eid al Fitr were full of joy, kindness, happiness, and brotherhood.
President Ghani’s constructive approach to diplomacy with the Taliban was most welcomed on the domestic front, as the result is that there has been stronger support for peace talks within warring groups over the country. His genuine approaches towards reconciliation with the Taliban won the hearts and minds of local populations throughout Afghanistan. Ghani accepted all the four demands of Helmand peace activists who had covered more than 700 Km in route, traveling 38 days on foot to the capitol city of Kabul. Along the journey, the convoy were chanting slogans such as “stop the war” and “we want peace”. They met with President Ghani on 19 June 2018 and ran through a list of demands for peace such as a one year ceasefire between Afghan government and Taliban, a direct address to peace talk, establishment of a joint government, sitting together and fixing a date for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. To mention the activists started their journey toward mazarsharif they have to cover 550 Km way by feet.
Ghani responded positively to the Helmand Province Peace Marchers’ demands and said his government is ready to announce a ceasefire if the Taliban will accept it. He told the leader of the Taliban that he is ready for ceasefire, and, “If you want to meet in the desert I want to meet you there, if you want to meet on the grass we will meet there, if you want to meet at Khirqa e sharifa in Kandahaar we will meet and talk there, if you want to meet in a mosque or mountain location we will meet there.” But, despite what Ghani said, the Taliban refused to extend the Eid al Fitr ceasefire and resumed fighting against international forces and their Afghan partners. Ghani by his extraordinary efforts of reconciliation with Taliban proved his serious resolve to bringing peace to Afghanistan.
Under President Ghani’s leadership, Afghanistan raised its voice trying to bring Taliban to the table of negotiation and resolution at regional and global forums. An Indonesia hosted conference concerning war and peace in Afghanistan was organized, at which religious scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia supported the efforts for peace in Afghanistan and spoke out against “terrorism and violent extremism” in Afghanistan. In addition, for the first time, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) jointly organized a two day international Ulema event entitled “International Conference of Muslim Scholars on Peace and Stability in Afghanistan”. Around 200 representatives from 57 countries and 108 Ulema from 32 countries with a 35 member Ulema from Afghanistan attended the Ulema conference in Jeddah and Meccah cities of Saudi Arabia. The head of the OIC, Yousef Bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, said that ongoing violent and extremist activities ongoing in Afghanistan are is not in accordance with Islam and said, “The military operation is not the way out of war in Afghanistan.”
Various other efforts have been taken to help resolve the violence. The OIC called on Afghanistan’s neighboring countries to help Afghanistan reach a peace agreement. As a path to bring peace, President Ghani brought the leader of militant group, Hezb e Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to join his political convoy. Gulbaddin Hekmatyar had battled against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and then took part in Afghan civil war that erupted after the Russians’ withdrawal, clashing with the so-called Northern Alliance later when he was driven out and the Taliban seized power in 1996. Hekmatyar returned after the American invasion vowing to resist what he termed the foreign occupation.
From 2011 to 2014, Hezb e Islami (HI), had 17 times sent its delegation to Kabul to conduct peace talks. A point often overlooked is that these efforts had no clear-cut outcome possibly because of the continuing HI militant presence in the battlefield. If there was political opposition by any other parties in the country, HI had been ready and did fight them. There was no real seriousness about peace. But when Ghani came to power in Kabul he strictly opposed Taliban and HI aggressions and insisted these two groups enter peace talks. Finally the National Unity Government, (NUG) and HI signed peace deal on September 22, 2016 by acceptance of the three demands of HIA; removal of the name of Hekmatyar from UN blacklist, that HI prisoners would be released, and distribution of 20 thousand numras 500 square meters of land to migrant refugees affiliated with HI.
Notwithstanding, Hekmatyar, white-bearded and clad in his trademark black turban, returned to Kabul on 4 May 2017 after 20 years in hiding. He came 8 months after the government signed the peace deal with his representative, Amin Karim. Still noted as official leader of Heze-e-Islami, Hekmatyar had first appeared in public in Lagman Province, met with many of his followers and government officials, and later went to the eastern province of Nangrahar. From there he came to Kabul with a convoy of armed men, and dozens of Kabul residents came out to see him, chanting “Long live Hekmatyar”. He traveled on to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other former jihadi leaders and miscellaneous senior government officials. The ceremonious return of Gulbbudin Hekmatyar concluded with him delivering a long speech at the presidential palace, and this event was considered another productive step in the goal of peace.
Also to be mentioned, President Ghani has now finished the nearly 17 years of conflict and resistance of implementation and distribution of biometric national ID cards, “e-taskira”. This program was aimed at unifying and standardizing identification and is very representative of the country’s modernization goals. It also gives authorities immediate computer access to an individual’s record of criminal and militant activities, so there can be more accountability of individual’s actions. President Ghani was the first Afghan citizen to receive his National biometric identification card, (Tazkira).
Desipte Ghani sharing the stage with Abdullah Abdullah, his ongoing efforts to go after warlords, to make peace with and between warring groups, and his goal of eradication of corruption in government has been passionately welcomed on both domestic and international fronts. President Ghani has become a deserving hero of the people.
*Muhibullah Hemmaty has worked as an author, columnist and political activist in Afghanistan. He holds Master degree in International Relations from International Islamic University Islamabad Pakistan. Currently working in Ministry of Commerce and Industries of Afghanistan as “WTO Notification Specialist”.