As the future of Afghanistan as a nation state is now really at stake, another conference is being organised to address the seemingly unending conflict in the country. The outcome of the conference is unknown but if a great breakthrough is not achieved, violence in Afghanistan would exacerbate, making the United States to revoke its agreement with the insurgent Taliban to pull out all of its troops from the war-ravaged country after almost nearly 20 years.
The dialogue on the Afghanistan conflict is being held at Moscow in Russia, where representatives of the Afghan government, the Taliban, Pakistan, China and the United States are taking part. Russians obviously are also actively participating in the negotiations. It is important to mention that at the end of February 2020, an agreement between Washington and the Taliban was signed. According to the deal, the Taliban would cease violent activities and take part in an intra-Afghan dialogue with the Afghan government. In return, the US would pull out all of its troops from Afghanistan by May 2021. The deal was made by former US President Donald Trump. Since the change of guards in the US in January this year and the assumption of the office of President of the United States by Joe Biden, the Afghan peace deal’s future has become uncertain.
The new US President Biden has announced that it would be very “tough” to pull out all of American troops from Afghanistan by the May deadline. Although he has not refused to withdraw all of its military personnel from Afghanistan, yet it appears that he would announce an extension in the deadline if some major development does not take place regarding peace in the country between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
In the situation, the holding of a conference to address the Afghan issue has become extremely important. In case no agreement for a future political set-up in Afghanistan is arrived at, then there would be a huge spike of violence in the country. Already, violence has exacerbated in Afghanistan with attacks on women, journalists, academics and other professionals.
On their part, the Taliban have asked Washington to honour its commitment and withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by May, otherwise they would be compelled to renew attacks on the American troops and installations. The Afghan government has been asking the US not to pull out its troops from Afghanistan unless there is a settlement with the insurgents. Thus, the main bone of contention between Kabul and the Taliban is the future political setup and the manner in which a new dispensation should come into existence. In other words, it is the distribution of power in Afghanistan to which the two sides disagree.
At the moment, there is also a proposal to establish an interim regime in Afghanistan with representation from all sides, including the government and the Taliban as well as minority ethnic groups, like Tajiks, Hazaras, Turkmen and Balochs. It is important to note that both President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban top leadership are Pakhtoons, which is the largest and historically dominant ethnic group of Afghanistan. It is indeed an important proposal because unless there is an interim government in Afghanistan no future political set-up could be agreed upon.
The Taliban have been insisting on the pullout of the US troops from Afghanistan because they know that in terms of force and militant power they could defeat Afghan government troops, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). It is interesting that 300,000-strong ANSF personnel could not resist the Taliban, who according to conservative estimates, number not more than 30,000. It is because there are profound disciplinary issues and lack of commitment on part of the ANSF personnel. Many ANSF generals have not been professional soldiers but are political or ethnic employees. The Afghan government has appointed the “generals” as a political bribe to anti-Taliban warlords and commanders. The Taliban expect that once the US troops and their airpower are not available to the ANSF, they would easily defeat the latter. Although this may not happen, yet according to the Taliban calculations many ANSF personnel would switch sides and join them.
The Taliban in Afghanistan really have a very strong support within the Afghan people and it has been the mainstay of the insurgents. Additionally, many people think that the Taliban have been fighting a war of national liberation against foreign troops. The Afghan government and ANSF personnel are considered by a large number of Afghans as US stooges. Therefore, they don’t get the support of the Afghan public. It was profoundly realised by the Afghan establishment and it has been making negative propaganda against the Taliban. The Taliban, on their part, are also power seekers. Now it depends how they use power this time round if they get it. The problem of the Taliban is that they want power and don’t want to share it with any other stakeholder. It is so because the Taliban are fundamentally a militant group instead of a political outfit. The leadership of the Taliban could not transform it into a political group.
The Taliban’s insistence on the pullout of the US troops is matched by the partially representative Afghan government and particularly its civil servants to keep the Taliban out of the power corridors. A large number of civil servants comprise former communist-era officials, who became marginalised by coming to power of the Taliban (1996-2001). Since the ouster of the Taliban regime by the US-led International Security & Assistance Force (ISAF) in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the American mainland on September 9, 2001, the communist-era Afghan officials have come to dominate the Afghan establishment, particularly its security component. Thus, the officials are against the Taliban and their return to power, as they think, they would be singled out and even eliminated physically and there are strong fears of losing their jobs, at least. Thus the officials blame all the unrest on the Taliban, which is not true at all. Observably, the Taliban have not owned attacks in the last several months, including some really deadly strikes. The attacks on civilians have taken a heavy human toll. However, the Afghan officials put the blame of all the attacks on the Taliban despite many of them being owned by Daesh or the Islamic State.
The IS and the Taliban have been at daggers drawn in Afghanistan and there have been many deadly clashes between the two militant groups. There have been strong indications that many Afghan officials have links with the IS as they want to use the latter as a militant counterweight to the Taliban.
Against the backdrop, when the Taliban insist on the withdrawal of the US troops so that to militantly capture power to the exclusion of all other power stakeholders, possibly to have a new beginning by mending their old violent ways of ruling, and the Afghan establishment wants to keep the Taliban out of power, it is very difficult to find a peaceful settlement of the imbroglio. In the situation Afghan intellectuals and civil society groups should come forward to find a solution to the conflict.