Afghan aspiration for peace must be considered a just desire, keeping in view the longevity and suffering. Since the invasion of the Soviets, the Afghan nation is at war with outsiders or within own factions. The Soviets realized the gravity and reality of the unjust invasion and pulled out timely as continuation could have been more costly. Yet the empire collapsed under its own weight of economic sustenance. The US invasion of Afghanistan on plea or under the garb of terrorism is taking long to overcome the terrorism or achieve the vested interests in the region. It’s been over eighteen years for the American and allied forces to achieve the objectives of operation enduring freedom (OEF – October 2001-December 2014) and operation freedom sentential (OFS – January 2015 till date). The presence of US and NATO forces is likely to continue despite the peace agreement and US assurance of leaving Afghanistan.
Encouraging is that the first block for peace building has been cemented by signing the agreement in Doha on 29 Feb 2020. Interesting was when Ghani challenged the viability by stating that releasing of 5000 Taliban poisoners was not part of the deal and the Afghan government was not part of the negotiations. Taliban, on other hand, stated that no intra-Afghan talks can take place without the release of the prisoners. Another uncertainty is the on-going political crisis emerging out of the presidential election results, which has been challenged by Abdullah Abdullah.
The next step in the process is the initiation of intra–Afghan dialogue by 10 March 2020, (the date has already passed) along with the release of prisoners by both sides, and the partial withdrawal of US forces within 135 days. What is intra-Afghan dialogue, who will be organizing, how will it be conducted, who all will take part in the dialogue and what is the time frame? Difficult questions yet need to be answered.
According to para 4 of the agreement, between the US and Taliban, “A permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations. The participants of intra-Afghan negotiations will discuss the date and modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, including joint implementation mechanisms, which will be announced along with the completion and agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan”.
The process requires some kind of homework at different levels on behalf of the sitting government, but who is head of the government, is another crisis like situation. Ghani has taken oath under the bullets, as the next elected president. Abdullah Abdullah has also taken oath as the Afghan president. Ghani’s win has been challenged by Abdullah. So, the intra-Afghan dialogue faces the first challenge, of whom to talk and who is the President. Yet another catch-22, is that how the process of intra-Afghan will start.
A critical look at the purpose of intra Afghan dialogue, mentioned in the agreement indicates two prime objectives, one: discuss the date and modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, including joint implementation mechanisms and two: along with the completion and agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan. Taliban stated that they will engage all the political groups with the objective to reach consensus. But the question is that the first objective of intra Afghan dialogue is a permanent ceasefire, where participation of the sitting government is must. For the second part, however, all political leaders, warlords, and religious clerics have to be engaged to reach a consensus on future political system or setup.
So, the first step of enforcing the permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, would require dialogue between the sitting government and the Taliban. Unfortunately, the political crisis in Kabul is more serious for the peace process as intra Afghan cannot begin without resolution of political crisis. Ghani and Abdullah will have to get to some kind of settlement or the peace process may stall. The US on the other hand, will have to intervene to make the rival leaders agree to forgo their personal gains and goods in the larger interests of the Afghan nation. President Ghani has to rise above self, if he desires peace in Afghanistan.
The question remains, that will the process sustain these challenges? The biggest hurdle at the moment is a political crisis. “One president” is a must to make the process take the next step. The next in line in the response of Ghani to the release of prisoners, which has resulted in a delay for the inter-Afghan dialogue. The fragility of the process is evident as all three parties to the conflict are still contesting their hardened positions. Taliban are waiting for the prisoner’s release, the Afghan government is attaching conditions to the release of Taliban detainees, and the US is yet to start the pull out owing to the initiation of intra-Afghan dialogue, so the process is in waiting.
Afghan conflict resolution is not an easy affair in the backdrop of so many stakeholders and spoilers, who are working in parallel. Pakistan, the best looser in the Afghan conflict, along with the Afghan nation is anxiously waiting for the next round and will have to wait as complications are at hype.