The Peace Initiative

Ajmal Shams

South Asia Magazine (September- 2014 Issue)

As usual the spring offensive by the Taliban insurgents moved well into the summer offensive as an increasing number of attacks are being regularly planned and executed in different parts of Afghanistan including the capital Kabul that has been witness to a wave of suicide bombings during the past several months. Last month 14 civilians belonging to Shia sect were executed in the western Ghor province. The Taliban militants were accused. Yet, there is no claim by the Taliban and the involvement of other groups who supposedly might have intended to trigger sectarian strife cannot be ruled out.

Regardless of whether the above-mentioned brutal killing was carried out by the Taliban or not, the militants’ attacks are being carried out intensely and regularly around the country with no apparent indication of an end or at least a decrease in the number of incidents.

In 2013, the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar, the first time since their collapse in late 2001 the insurgents had a formal address where they could be reached. However, the circumstances surrounding the initiative raised suspicions as to the sincerity of the effort. The move was rejected by the Afghan Government as the office carried a sign and flag of the Islamic Emirate. Afghan Government condemned the peace effort accusing the US to have hidden agenda behind the move. The Afghan Government’s stance was that any peace dialogue with the Taliban should be led by the Afghan Government and not by others. In an effort to convince the Afghan side to come to the negotiating table, the signboard was removed. Yet the damage had already been done and the efforts ended fruitlessly. Ever since, there has been no serious effort towards peace talks with the Taliban.

As of September 2014, the country’s political scene is dominated with the election campaign for the office of the new elected president to succeed the incumbent Hamid Karzai. The election season has somewhat overshadowed the efforts by the Afghan government and its international partners. Yet, the issue is on top of the agendas of the candidates in the run-off election. Both Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah who faced each other in the run-off election consider peace process with Taliban as one of their priorities. However, the two have different perspectives on how to deal with the Taliban. While Dr. Abdullah is bent upon continuing military defeat of the Taliban and other militant insurgents alongside peace talks, Dr. Ghani is more in favor of a political settlement. It is understandable Why Dr. Abdullah is against integrating the Taliban in any future set-up. It is the Northern Alliance that defeated the Taliban with the military support of the US forces back in late 2001 that ultimately paved the way for the politico-military alliance to take power in Kabul under the leadership of Hamid Karzai. Therefore, Dr. Abdullah’s point of view regarding the Taliban issue is quite natural. Dr. Ghani, on the other hand, is more pragmatic in his approach and would go for a political solution by integrating the Taliban militants into future elected government.

The Taliban insurgency should be looked at within the larger sphere of global and regional power politics where the victim is Afghanistan due to its geo-strategic location. It should be noted that with the killing of the Al-Qaeda Chief Osama Bin Laden who acted as the major inspiration for the militant group, its infrastructure has been virtually destroyed. For all practical purposes, Al Qaeda may no longer be a threat to US and its western allies to launch its operations from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The militant-cum-ideological group seems to be shifting its power base from central and South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula and Northern Africa. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that US President’s Obama’s new strategy vis-à-vis its fight against terrorism may no longer include Al Qaeda as part of the equation, not in this part of the world. The US’s preparedness to negotiate with the Taliban and facilitating the opening of office for them in Qatar clearly supports the hypothesis.

The threat of the Taliban militancy is no longer limited to Afghanistan. A different version of the extremism with different goals is threatening Pakistan as well where Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province has been particularly the victim of the unrest. The cost of human suffering for the country has been huge in recent months in the form of thousands innocent lives lost as collateral damage caused by Pak Army operation and thousand others displaced from their homes in Waziristan and forced to migrate across the Durand Line into neighboring provinces in Afghanistan.

Any political settlement of the Taliban issue in both Afghanistan and Pakistan should be part of the regional political framework that paves the way for the countries of the region who have direct or indirect stake in the issue to reach a conclusion of peaceful co-existence. It is noteworthy though that the entire region is in transition. A combination of geo-politics and economics will determine the political future of the region. The Taliban phenomena should be looked at as part of that regional political equation of power politics and not an isolated issue of a group of religious zealots who are bent upon establishing Sharia law in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite the fact that the dynamics of Taliban militancy in the two neighboring countries differ, on the ideological front there is a lot of common ground.

One of the main challenges for the upcoming administration in Kabul will be to bring peace to the war-ravaged country. No developmental agenda can be implemented without having security and there can be no sustainable security without peace. Therefore, peace-building in Afghanistan cannot be over-emphasized and has been a common inspiration of All Afghans. Of utmost significance to the new leader in Kabul will be to find a way to open a channel of communication with the Taliban and other insurgent/militant groups to come to the negotiating table.

Although all indications suggest that as foreign troops begin to withdraw from the country, the Taliban will further intensify their insurgency. Yet, with the right kind of political atmosphere there is no reason the militants cannot be integrated into the mainstream politics of the country. Any such effort though cannot be accomplished without active facilitation and cooperation effort from Pakistan.  

While Afghanistan is yet to come out successfully from the election stalemate, the US and UN intervention and mediation has paved the way for the two leading candidates i.e. Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah to form a national unity government where both the winner and loser are committed to work together and agree on the political framework.  Dr. Ghani was announced winner in the preliminary result that was challenged by the rival Abdullah and eventually the two candidates agreed on hundred percent audit of all votes polled. All signs are that Dr. Ghani will retain his majority even with the audit thus becoming Karzai’s successor to lead Afghanistan as its newly elected president. If elected, Dr. Ghani has promised to integrate both the Taliban and Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami in the national unity government as he interprets it. In case Dr. Ghani succeeds in bringing in both the Taliban and other militant groups in the newly elected government he will have made history in peace-making.

(Courtesy: South Asia Magazine - Sep-2014 Issue)

The writer is President of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party better known as Afghan Millat National Progressive Party and is based in Kabul, Afghanistan. He served as Policy Advisor to President Dr. Ashraf Ghani when he chaired the security transition commission. He mainly writes on political and developmental issues. He has published in the News International, the Gulf News, the Asia times, South Asia Magazine and several other national and international journals.

انځورونه خبرونه او غونډې مونږ سره اړیکې د ګوند اخبار دګوند تاریخچه زمونږ دریځ لیکنې دا فغان ملت نومیالي دګوند مشر د ګوندمرامنامه  کورپاڼه
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 Afghanistan Social Democratic Party

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