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Questions Outnumber Answers As Fragile Afghan Peace Process Moves Forward – OpEd

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After years of war in Afghanistan, the US and Taliban have finally inked a peace deal aiming to end the virulence between the two conflicting parties. The treaty aims to end nearly twenty years of war in Afghanistan after the deadly terrorist attacks of September 2001.

All the stakeholders have appreciated the agreement and commended both parties to respect and implement the accord. The finalized pact had the following four key points.

  • Withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan over a timeframe of fourteen months.
  • Taliban agreed on not providing any sort of support or safe heavens to the forces that are hostile towards the United States such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
  • Taliban gave nod to halt the violent activities whether against the foreign troops, Afghan National Army or suicide attacks on civilian targets.
  • Beginning of the intra-Afghan dialogue process.

The terms of the US-Taliban peace deal were discussed without the officials from the Afghan government. Although some of the provisions of the concord needed Kabul’s nod, such as prisoner exchange but still they were completely left out the process.

Ashraf Ghani initially tried to show-off his power and termed the US as mere facilitators who did not have the authority to release the terror-accused prisoners. But the Taliban quickly resumed their violent activities, raising worries that the peace may be short-lived. It still remains unclear that how this agreement will make Afghanistan move towards a free-of-violence and a peaceful state, or it is just a safe and politically justifiable exit to the US President Donald Trump has been desperately craving for Nobel Peace Prize by calling out the American troops from conflict zones. Whatever the case may be, If Afghanistan moves towards a steady and prosperous environment, all the stakeholders of this process must answer a few questions.

Which government in Afghanistan, the Taliban should talk to?

The Presidential elections held in late September last year were very controversial. President Ashraf Ghani was announced as the winner by Independent Election Commission (IEC). But the runner-up and former Chief Executive of the country Dr. Abdullah Abdullah refused to accept the election results and accused Ashraf Ghani of using fraudulent means to remain in the power. Hence both of them sworn in as President of Afghanistan last month. This means two parallel governments will work in Afghanistan and will have eventually two Presidents, two cabinets and unfortunately will have a division of geography within the country. These circumstances make confusion about which faction will be in the driving seat during the intra-Afghan dialogue with the Taliban.

How a post-political settlement Afghanistan might look like?

The fragmentation within the lines of the Afghan Taliban especially after the death of Mullah Muhammad Umar, the founding leader of the Taliban is well known to the world. No leader has been able to keep the Taliban intact and news of divisions and rifts among them have been making global headlines. Additionally, the Taliban’s refusal to accept Kabul’s government as the legitimate government of Afghanistan has doubled the trouble. Hence it is still unclear how a settlement might look like post the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Will the Taliban accept the present constitution and become part of the current legislation or try to bring their own Sharia-based law for the governance of the country? Power-sharing agreements always cause disputes and often interrupt the government mechanism as the case continues to be in Lebanon.

Can America trust the Taliban on not providing safe heavens to hostile entities?      

It is still unpredictable how are the Afghan Taliban going to react against actors that are inimical towards the United States and its NATO allies. The complete departure of foreign troops from the arena and dire situation of Afghan security forces will surely pose a great threat to the US as it will make it very difficult to monitor whether insurgent groups are being hosted or allusively supported. The presence of such terrorist organizations within the country could be a severe risk as they can launch 9/11 like attack on America or any of its western allies using Afghan soil. Additionally, the possible existence of these insurgent groups can also cause a menace to Kabul’s government and democratic institutions of Afghanistan. So it is rational to ask the question that whether Americans are capable of muscling the Taliban to implement provisions of treaty post their withdrawal or are they making this agreement an excuse to leave behind Afghanistan, where they have lost more than two thousand servicemen and a hefty amount of nearly two trillion dollars.

How the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan will emerge after the implementation of the peace deal?    

Pakistan and the Taliban have considered long-standing allies and ISI has been widely accused of sheltering the insurgent group for ages. But this notorious image will be affected after the settlement in Afghan society as Islamabad will surely try to push back Afghan refugees to their homeland that have been living there for four decades. This will be undoubtedly a complicated and controversial process as Afghanistan is economically devastated and would require much time to take back the burden of its citizens living in neighboring countries.

Is Kabul potent enough to expand its authority over the entire Afghanistan without the help of foreign troops?    

Taliban have negotiated the entire peace treaty without letting the Afghan government involve in it. The US has also taken it as an excuse to make its exit from Afghanistan faster, therefore provided the Taliban an opportunity to be the upper-hand during intra-Afghan dialogue. Moreover, resumption of violence by the Taliban has also have revealed the grip of the Afghan government on security matters, further decreasing their credibility. The way the Afghan government engages with these insurgents to stretch it’s on ground influence will surely affect political developments in decades to come. 

How will a peaceful Afghanistan deal with black-markets working from its soils? 

Several mighty criminal patronage groups that are mainly involved in opium and poppy cultivation, smuggling of methamphetamine, timber, fuel or even human trafficking are being operated from Afghanistan. Such syndicates have an interest in unstable and uncertain Afghanistan and will go to any extent to sabotage the peace process. 

Will NATO forces withdraw completely or how would an incomplete disengagement appear like?

The US has agreed to leave over the short period of fourteen months but will it be in a position to hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban are generally hostile and thrawn towards west. Or will it be a partial withdrawal similar to the US presence in Iraq? Or the US will continue its air support advising the on-ground troops to guarantee that the treaty is being fully implemented? These questions will also be significant while accessing how much room the US is providing to Russia and China who are highly interested to play their part in post settled Afghanistan.

How will Afghanistan deal with its several million citizens living as refugees in Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere?

Afghans are currently the second largest refugee community worldwide after Syrian refugees. There are over 2.6 million registered refugees in seventy countries around the world, with the majority, 95 percent being hosted by two neighboring countries, Iran and Pakistan, according to the UNHCR. Is Afghanistan economically stable enough to provide a reasonable livelihood to millions of its expatriates who will be eventually forced to move back by their hosting countries?

Is Afghanistan going to be an ‘Islamic Emirate’ or ‘Islamic Republic’?

After the seizure of power in Afghanistan, Mullah Umar led the Taliban named the state as the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ with an aim to establish a Sharia-style form of governance. They continued to run the state like this until the US-led NATO invasion post 9/11 attacks when they ousted the Taliban government and established a presidential democracy in the war-torn country. The Taliban have long intended to recreate their dream empire and are very much uncompromising on their stance. It would be interesting how the Taliban present their case on the negotiating table.

How will democracy prevail in Afghanistan?

Last but perhaps the most important question is that will the right of self-determination be provided to the common people of Afghanistan. This question raises any social concerns such as building institutions and infrastructure, conducting elections, women and human rights, media and press freedom. These issues must be addressed while moving forward towards peace as they would play a vital part in rebuilding Afghan society from the ashes of the decades-long war.

Assuming that intra-Afghan negotiations get started, both the Taliban and the Afghan government in Kabul must accept that dialogue and a political solution is the only way forward. If the last four decades of war in Afghanistan teach us something, it’s not that we don’t look for a prospering, harmonious and democratic Afghanistan, but it could be that we have not looked for the right answers.

*Hassan Aziz is a student of Law at International Islamic University, Islamabad. He’s presently working as a Media Secretary at Law Students Council. He regularly follows international developments especially in South Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through twitter at @H_AzizPK


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