InternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 15

Peace on the precipice in Afghanistan

The ostensibly historic deal between the United States and the Afghan Taliban reached for restoring peace to Afghanistan became quite questionable as President Ashraf Ghani refused to respect the terms of the agreement. The agreement between Washington and the Afghan Taliban inter alia included the withdrawal of all the remaining around 8000 US personnel from Afghanistan in 13 months and the setting free of more than 5,000 Taliban inmates from Afghan jails. The deal also envisaged intra-Afghan dialogue soon.

The peace agreement between signed by the US President Special Representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, himself an Afghan by birth, and Taliban Political Head, Abdul Ghani Birader, is extremely important as it is the first time in the last 19 years after the US overthrew the Afghan Taliban regime in October 2001 in the aftermath of the September 9, 2001 terrorist attacks in America that the Taliban have reached a settlement with Washington. The pact is important because it has paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign occupying forces from Afghanistan and provides a roadmap for the purpose.

However, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, without realizing the importance of the agreement between Washington and the Taliban, has refused to accept its terms. The problem of President Ghani is that his nominees or any Afghan official was not part of the deal between the US and the Taliban whereas he claimed to be an important stakeholder in any negotiations. However, the Taliban have been consistently pleading that they would not engage in negotiations with the Afghan government unless there is an agreement with the US which is only possible once the latter gives a timeframe for withdrawal of all its forces from Afghan soil.

According to the Taliban, the Afghan government has been nothing but a puppet of Washington. While one cannot call the Afghan government a “puppet” because many Afghans voted for Ashraf Ghani and before him, Hamid Karzai, but it is also very much true that without the support of Washington both of them could not even rule the country for a single day. Moreover, the Taliban have been a very important reality of contemporary Afghanistan notwithstanding the fact that to what extent Afghan authorities may call them as of no standing of their own. The Afghan authorities’ non-recognition of the Taliban as a genuine and independent force has been the main cause of the apparently unending conflict in Afghanistan.

While the Afghan government, whether of President Karzai or President Ghani, could not be able to control Afghanistan, they blamed the Taliban for being the stooges of Pakistan. This is despite the fact that the US, the main party to the Afghan conflict theatre, has recognized the Taliban as a key political stakeholder. It was after this recognition of the Taliban as a genuine political force that it engaged in talks with the group members. So no amount of denial by the Afghan authorities of the Taliban could shield the truth of their existence. In fact, Afghan Presidents Karzai and Ghani and their officials have been trying to prove that the Taliban have been nothing but Pakistani stooges. However, they have been unable to prove their point as not only Washington has recognized the genuineness of the group but the latter has also been having extensive support of the Afghans. No insurgency or militancy could be sustained in a manner as the Taliban have perpetrated it for the last 20 years without the support of the people.

Unfortunately, Ashraf Ghani has not learnt from history and, therefore, he has refused to set free the Taliban inmates arguing that the fate of his country could not be decided by Washington and Pakistan. Obviously, the fate of any country could not be and ought not to be decided by some other country but if a country and its government is unable to establish its writ over its territory and people, then the legitimacy of such authority is very much suspected and questionable. So if Ghani does not agree with the terms of the agreement between the US and the Taliban, he should have unequivocally told the US beforehand that any deal between them would not be acceptable to him. However, he waited so that to see the outcome of the agreement and when the outcome challenged his position and his regime, he refused to abide by it. Now, it is the duty of Washington to make Ghani comply with the agreement, otherwise the future of Afghanistan and peace and stability there would be at stake.

It may also be mentioned that the political position of Ghani is also quite weak as his main challenger, Abdullah Abduallah, in the last presidential elections blamed that he had been re-elected fraudulently and he would form a parallel government in the country. Now when the possible deal between Washington and the Taliban would further weaken the position of Ghani, as the group would definitely call for a new election or even a change of the political system, which would be at the altar of the person of Ghani, he does not want to respect the terms of the agreement. Ghani has come up with a strange logic by stating that he could only set free Afghan Taliban prisoners if the Taliban leadership and members living in Pakistan would shift to Afghanistan. This is again a blame-game on his part to unnecessarily drag Pakistan into the Afghan crisis while Islamabad has demonstrated a lot of flexibility to make the Taliban come to the negotiations table. No doubt, Pakistan has influence over the Taliban and it has fundamentally been due to the fact that the Taliban, like millions of Afghan refugees, have been living in Pakistan for the last four decades with complete freedom and, therefore, Pakistan is like a second home to them. Had Pakistan not exercised its soft influence over the Taliban they could not have even engaged in talks with Washington and the latter as well as President Ghani know this quite well. So in this regard, the role of Pakistan should have been appreciated instead of criticized.

If Ghani still sticks to his illogical stance, it would be disastrous for Afghanistan and if something happens to the country, his power and presidency would also be affected. Therefore, he should take a dispassionate and objective stock of the situation and let the peace deal succeed between the US and the Taliban. Moreover, if he is a true statesman he should work to purposefully engage the Taliban in intra-Afghan dialogue, so that a lasting solution to the Afghan problem could be achieved and it is a historic opportunity for all Afghans to capitalize on, otherwise history would not pardon them.