After more than 40 years of conflict — driven by local, regional and supra-regional interests — it is only fair that the people of Afghanistan finally achieve lasting peace and escape the poverty that affects more than 80 per cent of the population. The current situation in Afghanistan is challenging and the prospects of peace remain distant. But many — including those here in Pakistan — are willing to take some risks to promote a negotiated political settlement between the government of the Republic and the Taliban. Both sides will ultimately have to make concessions in the interest of peace and security in Afghanistan.
Looking at the necessary elements for a lasting peace in the war-ravaged country, I deem there to be one which merits particular attention: the pursuit of a neutral Afghanistan, a proposition that may very well be a prerequisite for security and stability in the country. Here, I cannot help but remember what happened in the heart of Europe after Napoleon’s defeat, when in 1815, at the Congress of Vienna, the map of Europe was redrawn. For more than 15 years, Switzerland had been occupied by the young French Republic and eventually absorbed into the Napoleon’s Empire. Hence, the victorious anti-France Alliance wanted to avoid new problems from arising in this strategic region holding the Alpine passes. The aim was to ensure that Switzerland would no longer take sides in any future conflicts between its neighbours, and that its territory would not be used to harm any other country.
Moreover, when the Great Powers at the Congress of Vienna formalised Switzerland’s permanent neutrality — which had already been a longstanding, self-declared practice for centuries — they also undertook to respect it: active neutrality on the one hand, and a guarantee of its respect by the regional players (Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, Russia, etc) on the other. So when looking for a solution for peace in Afghanistan, isn’t it a good time to also reflect on this historical example?
However, what would this mean for Afghanistan? To begin with, all Afghan parties to the conflict should ensure that Afghanistan and its local components will not take sides in disputes between their neighbours — for instance, between Pakistan and India or between China and India. But, above all, it implies a commitment by the regional powers and the international community to not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs anymore. This commitment could manifest itself in the shape of a solemn declaration by all states in the region as well as the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to guarantee the territorial integrity and the neutrality of Afghanistan.
The realisation of a neutral Afghanistan may be a painstakingly long process. Nevertheless, based on our own experience in Switzerland, this is quite a successful formula that could perhaps also benefit the aspired peace in Afghanistan. Bear in mind, Afghanistan has followed a policy of neutrality in the past, notably from the late 19th century until the mid-20th century.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2021.