United States seems to be inclined or even desperate, to close a deal with the Taliban. The US Special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has already held extensive six-days talks with the Taliban at Doha last month. Americans are hopeful that talks with the Taliban will take the ‘peace process’ forward and eventually end the civil war in Afghanistan, the longest US war in history. By these moves that seem to be taken in a rush on the Afghan chessboard, United States wants to end its engagement and leave the country sooner than later. But it is difficult not to be skeptical about the prospects of this somewhat half-baked ‘peace process’ which is about to be sold to Afghans. It seems that history is repeating itself. The international community is once again abandoning war-ravaged Afghanistan at a very crucial point just as it did three decades ago following Soviet withdrawal from the country. That created a security vacuum and eventually led to the fall of national government. Which in turn made Afghanistan a a citadel of transnational extremist groups.
Certainly, Taliban leaders sitting down with US officials and separately with the Afghan politicians is an important political development in the 17-year-long Taliban insurgency. But the US which is eager to negotiate with Taliban and pack bags to leave for home has to understand that only talking to Taliban won’t serve much purpose. In order to make Afghan peace process a success in long term has to be comprehensive one which includes participation of Afghans from all walks of life including political parties, civil society, Afghan government and tribal chiefs. The major flaw in the current peace process is that it should have been preceded by the domestic consensus between various stakeholders. Without an internal consensus, it would be difficult to prevent a new civil war after foreign troops leave the country. Afghan society is a complex one including many ethnicities with the major ones being Pashtun, Tajik, Hazaras and Uzbek and numerous minor groups like Ismailis, Qizilbash, Farsiwan, Aimaqs, Baluchis, Brahui and Nuristanis. Any foreign imported peace arrangement agreed between a foreign power and only one group in a capital of an Arab state won’t harmonize intra Afghan relations – which is must for reaching long-lasting peace and stability.
The peace process should also aim to achieve peace with the armed actors in the country and long-term reconciliation between the country’s many diverse groups. Proposals for a negotiated political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan should take into account interests of all sections of the Afghan population, include the active participation of all ethnic groups and the main religious minorities, and provide for their appropriate representation in any future power sharing arrangement. Rather than sole focus on one armed group as we should remember that Afghanistan is a country of 31 million people and not only of few thousand fighters.
Moreover, peace process in the war-ravaged countries can’t be rushed in, it’s a long process which requires patience and due diligence, like the British negotiated with the IRA for two decades before there was a peace deal in Northern Ireland. It should not be assumed by foreign powers that Afghans themselves are incapable of launching any successful reconciliation process. Afghanistan has a long tradition of using the forum of large gatherings, intra tribal meetings to discuss important and current issues and to reach agreement and consensus. So, Afghans are capable enough to talk with their fellow countrymen as it was also demonstrated in 2016 when President Ghani successfully presented the peace agreement to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s party, the Hezb-e Islami. The peace deal resulted in Hekmatyar’s return from a 20-year-long self-imposed exile and converted Hezb-e-Islami from an armed group to a political actor.
Moreover, external actors bypassing elected bodies in the country and directly engaging with the armed groups significantly damaged Afghanistan's political institutions which need to be strengthened. For this the US and important regional players must ensure that peace processes should be initiated from the democratically elected government of Afghanistan. It should be open and transparent one which encourages the involvement and ownership of all Afghan stakeholders. This is the only way that the overwhelming public support for a negotiated settlement can be capitalized. The international community has an extremely important role to play in this respect. Not only is it imperative for donor countries to voice their continued financial support for both the country’s development and military assistance to the Afghan armed forces, but all countries with an interest in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan need to demonstrate their unwavering, yet critical, support for a negotiated peace process.