Someone wise once said that peace meant a period between two wars. Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani is prolonging the war before the peace. The Americans have kept their promise and, as per the peace deal with the Taliban, have reduced troops to 8,600 in 135 days since the peace agreement was signed in February. Forces from five military bases have been completely removed. US Special Representative in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted, “The US has worked hard to carry out first phase of its commitments under the agreement, including to reduce troops and depart five bases.”
After the peace agreement, the plan was for the Taliban and Kabul to negotiate future course of action. This was supposed to happen within 10 days of the agreement. However, it didn’t — mostly due to Ghani’s shenanigans because he was focused on landing the continued job of president of Afghanistan. Prisoners swap has been the key factor for smooth talks between Kabul and the Taliban. Ghani has so far released more than 4,000 out of 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the Taliban have released more than 600 out of the 1,000 Afghan security forces.
However, Kabul has refused to release about 500 of the remaining 1,000 Taliban prisoners because Ghani deems them “too dangerous” and guilty of serious crimes. It is interesting to think that Ghani would negotiate with the Taliban who are attacking them now but wouldn’t release the ones who were violent in the past.
On Monday, a Taliban attack struck the Aybak office of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s premier spy agency. Given the hurdles created by Ghani in achieving peace in Afghanistan, this was not unexpected. Also, it needs to be constantly reminded that the peace deal between the Taliban and the Americans remains intact despite these attacks because American and coalition troops aren’t attacked. The deal had called for sparing the foreign forces on their way out. The thing about reducing violence generally was an understanding merely for media consumption. Had that been important to the Americans, it would have been a clause in the peace agreement in black and white.
As far as the Americans and the Taliban are concerned, both sides are taking care of their end of the bargain. Withdrawal of foreign forces, not attacking those outgoing foreign troops, and not allowing foreign terrorist groups in Afghanistan, constitute the deal. Everything else is noise.
Ghani has an opportunity to avoid the deaths of his people by negotiating and taking care of his end of the bargain without whining about the ramifications of his own inaction. Because the Taliban’s real ace of spade is their ability to create violence. They compelled the mighty America to leave the battlefield and come to the table. What makes Ghani think he is stronger than America?
These attacks are business as usual and maintenance of the status quo. Not disrupting this status quo by refusing to release Taliban prisoners means tolerating Afghan casualties. Violence is what the Taliban do best and they do it not against civilians or foreign troops but against the Afghan government. “If they continue to create more problems in this regard, then it shows they do not want issues to be solved through reasonable ways,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Ghani’s mission, should he choose to accept it, would be to ensure the least bloodshed resulting from the end of America’s as well as Afghanistan’s longest war. Nevertheless, if we look from Ghani’s perspective, perhaps it would make sense to create hurdles in the way of peace and let his own people get slaughtered. Because if he allows peace to move forward and concludes talks with the Taliban, someday soon the Taliban would move from being the de facto power to an official power in Afghanistan. And that would be the end of everything that today’s Kabul is made of.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2020.