Diplomacy has a last chance for peace in Afghanistan

Development comes in the wake of an escalating cycle of attacks being launched by the Taliban


Rustam Shah Mohmand July 20, 2021
The writer is a former chief secretary K-P and former ambassador

The visits of the Taliban delegations to Tehran and Moscow have rekindled hopes for a breakthrough in the peace talks being held in Doha. The visits have generated hopes amid despair and despondency in the war-ravaged country.

Fast on the heels of the negotiations held in Tehran and Moscow, a powerful Afghan delegation is visiting Doha for more focused discussions on ways to finding a consensus for reconciliation. The delegation includes Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the High Peace Council mandated to hold negotiations with the Taliban, along with other high-profile personalities like Atta Mohammad Nur, Batoor Dostum (son of Rashid Dostum), and Karim Khalili of Hizb-e Wahdat party. This is by far the most authoritative delegation to be engaging with the Taliban in talks.

The development comes in the wake of an escalating cycle of attacks being launched by the Taliban who have gained control of numerous districts across the country. What is more significant is that these districts have fallen to the Taliban without any fight. The security forces have surrendered, having delivered their weapons to the advancing Taliban. This pattern seems to be spreading all over the country. The apparent reasons for such large-scale surrenders are the growing disenchantment of the troops with the government policies, the rising level of hostility towards the US military presence, the endemic corruption, lack of motivation to resist the Taliban control and the inevitability of a Taliban victory.

According to reliable reports, more than 24,000 troops have surrendered to the Taliban so far; about 4,500 tanks and armoured vehicles have been delivered to the Taliban; over 4,000 small and big vehicles have also been seized by the group; nine small dams are currently under Taliban control along with the border crossings with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Pakistan.

To combat the Taliban volunteers and to blunt their momentum, the Kabul government has resorted to the obnoxious idea of creating local militias, based mostly on ethnicity. Thus, private militias are being created by the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and in some cases by the Turkmens. The idea is two-fold: the private militias would engage the Taliban locally in areas like Ghazni, Parwan, Balkh, Faryab, Herat, Baghlan, etc, to prevent them from advancing onto Kabul. The other sinister objective is to create an environment for a civil war and make an appeal to the international community for urgent help.

This scheme would work if the talks don’t deliver. The country is faced with the horrific prospects of descending into chaos and anarchy. The problem is that Ghani’s government is not agreeable to any settlement that would come at its cost. Saving a tottering regime that is on the brink is more important than seeking a lasting agreement that would bring peace to the country. That is Afghanistan’s dilemma.

The US government could have created conditions for a negotiated settlement if it had brought pressure to bear upon the Kabul government to make room for a transitional government and spare the masses of a bloody infighting that would bring more misery and suffering. That approach was not adopted. Washington vacillated between different options with no clear sense of direction.

Other than the current government leaders, there is widespread support for the idea of a transitional government that is led by the Taliban and includes other factions/parties. The establishment of an Islamic emirate should not cause any worries as long as it is committed to safeguarding basic human rights such as women’s education and liberty to work, protection of minorities and a determination to root out all other militant outfits from the country. The Taliban have already announced a general amnesty and a pledge to not allow Afghan soil to be used against neighbouring or other countries.

This commitment must be seen in the backdrop of the gigantic task of reconstruction that awaits the country. Unless they align themselves with the wider objectives of protection of minorities, guaranteeing human rights and creating an environment for expansion of health and education facilities for all, the world would not respond to their demand for help. The Taliban-led government would receive financial, technical and managerial assistance only if they choose to become active members of the international community. Isolated, they would not be in a position to undertake the huge task of rebuilding the country and its institutions. The Taliban appear to have understood this message clearly.

There is space for a compromise. There is a consensus on saving the country with tremendous support for ending the conflict. There is fatigue and a desperate longing for peace to return after more than 40 years of fighting. Perhaps this is the last chance for peace. When the country faces such heavy odds, it should give a decisive verdict in favour of a negotiated settlement. The main stumbling block i.e. the Kabul government’s opposition to any such deal must be overcome by generating support for a transitional government.

Regional countries could play a role without any visible signs of being aligned with any group or faction. China could play a robust behind-the-scenes role because it is not tainted with promoting one or the other faction or group in the tussle for power. China and Turkey could play a role that perhaps Iran and Pakistan may not be in a position to play. The issue of a peaceful transition would be resolved only when the Ghani government has been pressured or persuaded to let a new government be created through the time-honored Afghan tradition of a Loya Jirga. That appears to be the only way to guaranteeing not only peace but stability that would pave the way for reconstruction and rehabilitation. The Afghan government would only waste this opportunity at the cost of unity and peace of the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2021.

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