Afghans want peace, not just an end to war
Afghans are hopeful that a peace deal between the Taliban and the United States can bring them closer to the end of the country’s ongoing devastation for more than four decades. This protracted state of war has resulted in loss of countless lives, massive displacement of people, particularly women and children, and destruction of infrastructure systems in the country. Taking into account the price Afghans have paid and continue to pay, it seems they would eagerly welcome and accept any deal that can put an end to the ongoing war, but is that really the case and is it that simple too?
For many Afghans, peace is not simply the end of war between Taliban and the Afghan army, working in the shadow of US-led troops.
They want equal rights for all citizens as described in the constitution. They also want a governance system where institutions are capable of protecting their rights. While the broad contours of the US-Taliban deal suggests a phased withdrawal of US forces, they also want a commitment by Taliban to reject internal and external militant groups operating in their territory. Though, the negotiations have been going on for months, the details remain unknown.
Afghans want withdrawal of US troops to be complimented by efforts to address the concerns of women, children, minorities, internally displaced communities, and returnees. The agreement must also include provisions to ensure equal participation of all without discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, language, religion, political, economic and social affiliations.
Since direct talks between the US, led by Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, and Taliban started in late 2018, a number of experts and political analysts—many of whom are not Afghans—have said they believe Taliban have changed or reformed. They say Taliban leaders in Doha have assured them that they recognize that today’s Afghanistan is not the same as in the late 1990s when they ruled the country. However, in the eyes and experience of millions of Afghans, the Taliban’s ideology remains very much unchanged. Is there anything that can be done to bridge the confidence deficit?
After 18 years of fighting Taliban and US administration appears ready for troop withdrawal. Yet, even as the US negotiates with Taliban, the group continues to engage in terrorism and kill civilians indiscriminately. The question is whether Taliban—at both the leadership and operational levels—have the capacity, competency, and willingness to put the public good before the group’s interests. Even if the US-Taliban deal and an eventual peace agreement brokered by intra-Afghan talks results in Taliban joining the country’s political system, terrorism will remain a challenge for the country.
Countering terrorism requires more than a military response. It requires integrated political, social, and economic strategies. Ultimately, Afghanistan can only tackle its terrorism challenge when it has achieved political stability, social equity and economic growth, all of which are interconnected. There is concern that withdrawal could lead to a sudden stop of humanitarian and development aid, which would be catastrophic.
As the US and international coalition troops drawdown, the international community must remain engaged to help Afghanistan build a more peaceful, inclusive society. That is the only way to reduce the high levels of violence the country has experienced for decades.
Is the international community, particularly the US, willing to stand by Afghans after the withdrawal of troops? Many Afghans fear that after the signing of a peace deal between the US and Taliban, the US will abandon the country, leading to chaos and civil war much like after the withdrawal of Soviet troops some 30 years ago. An abandoned Afghanistan could be exploited by violent extremist groups around the world and bring Afghanistan right back to where it was in 2001.
An expected agreement between the US and the Taliban to smooth future negotiations raises concerns that women may lose some freedoms.
Women, in particular, have paid a high price over the years and will likely lose the most if a peace deal does not include provisions agreed to by all parties to treat women as equal citizens who will participate in and contribute to the rebuilding of their country.