Of late, some very important developments have taken place in Afghanistan, which would have important consequences for the future of peace or otherwise in the war-ravaged country. On one hand, an election to choose the next president of the county was held on September 28, and on the other, there are a number of reasons due to which the polls for the highest constitutional office of the country are important.
Firstly, the Afghan presidential election of September 28, which was fourth on the trot, held relatively peacefully as no large-scale casualties on, at least, the election-day were witnessed. Although, in the run-up to the polls, hundreds of people were killed, particularly in elections rallies. The relatively peaceful election in such violent and volatile times is indeed not a mean achievement. It would go a long way in creating political stability in the country. However, much will depend who would be ultimately declared by the Afghan Independent Election Commission the winner. The results would be announced by October 19 and there are strong chances that the incumbent President, Dr. Ashraf Ghani, may retain the office. Nevertheless, Chief Executive Officer of Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who has been a main political rival of Ghani, as both also contested the presidential election in 2014 against each other, could also emerge a winner. But there are fewer chances of Abdullah winning the presidential election. Interestingly, as in 2014, Dr. Abdullah would level charges of electoral fraud if he loses. Noticeably, he has already claimed to have won the election. This time, Abdullah would try to vociferously push his claim for having won the presidential election as Ghani is an incumbent president and accusing him of fraud is easy to sell. Moreover, this may be the last bid of Abdullah to become president. But not a large number of Afghans would pay heed as they have got used to such unfounded claims by Abdullah. It will be important for the political stability of Afghanistan.
The election for the next president in Afghanistan would have a strong influence on peace talks between the Taliban and the United States on one hand, and the Taliban and the government in Kabul, on the other. Already, signs of the impact of the relatively peaceful election on the negotiation process are quite visible. The Taliban sent a large delegation to Islamabad, purportedly to revive the stalled peace talks with Washington as US President’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan, Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, was also in Islamabad at the same time. Although both Taliban and Washington did not dub it an effort to revive the suspended peace talks, yet Pakistan has been trying it utmost to put on rails again the process of negotiations between the two sides. Why the Taliban are seeking the revival of talks with Washington is an important question. In fact, for the Taliban the continued use of violence seems to be counterproductive, especially when US President Trump vowed to hit the Taliban ferociously as never before. The Taliban’s inability to stop the presidential election and staging large-scale violent attacks on the election-day are not only a sign of weakness of the militia but also an indicator of the rising capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces to ensure order. Now, if Ghani or Abdullah returns to power in Afghanistan, the Taliban would feel its heat and they would feel the need to reduce violence and come to the negotiation table.
One is at a loss that why the Taliban could not take part in the presidential election. The obvious answer is that the Taliban have always advanced the argument that the current political system in Afghanistan was imposed by the Western forces on the country and the Afghans have nothing to do with it. Therefore, the Taliban would not be part of the political system and the process. This is somewhat understandable but the Taliban have also been unable to turn the tables on the Afghan government and wrench away power by force as they for the first time did in 1996. Therefore, in order to prove that they are the most “lovable” and “genuine” representatives of the Afghans, the Taliban have left with no other option but to prove their popularity and support among Afghanistan. Against this backdrop, they should have fielded their candidate in the presidential election. However, the Taliban, in fact, desisted from becoming part of the political process and contest the presidential election for fear of getting exposed by failing to win an election. The situation could deeply discredit the Taliban. But at the same time, the Taliban could have asked the Afghans to vote for their candidate, so that violence in Afghanistan could be stopped. Then once in the saddle, the Taliban could do whatever they want to do. This becomes particularly important when the Taliban have time and again claimed to mend their old ways of violently and harshly treating their opponents.
According to discussions of this scribe with people close to the Afghan Taliban, the group members also feel war-weariness and fatigue due to an unending conflict. It has now been more than 18 years that the Taliban have been fighting against the US-led foreign forces in Afghanistan. So, the tiredness would push the Taliban to join the peace process. Importantly, Pakistan is playing its critical role in reviving the stalled Afghan peace process by hosting US envoys and Taliban representatives and obviously both sides have not come to Pakistan without sureties by Islamabad. It is important to note that the process of talks between the US and the Taliban broke down when Washington rightly argued that the Taliban did not want peace as they continued to stage large-scale militant and terrorist attacks while at the same time remaining on the negotiations table. Pakistan seems to have made the Taliban to realize their miscalculation that continued violence and attacks would give them an upper hand in the negotiation process. War-weariness also is playing its role in pushing the Taliban once again to the negotiation table. Above all, taking place of the relatively peaceful fourth presidential election would provide political stability to Afghanistan.
All the factors may ultimately force the Taliban to earnestly realize that violence and continued conflict is not an option. The situation may increase the prospects of peace in Afghanistan. However, the situation needs to be handled very deftly, not only by Afghanistan’s critically important neighbour Pakistan but also by Washington. Nevertheless, the attitude and behaviour of the Taliban would be the decisive factor in restoring order to Afghanistan.