On 17 May 2020, the electoral crisis in Afghanistan that surfaced almost six months earlier, finally came to an end. The two sides of the political feud, President Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, reached a power-sharing agreement in which Dr. Abdullah resumed the role of the Chairman of High Council of National Reconciliation.
A week later, the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire for the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr and, in return, the Afghan government initiated a process of release of up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a gesture of goodwill. These developments were welcomed widely across Afghanistan and the international community as it raised hopes for the resumption of peace talks to end the decades of war in the country.
Last week, President Trump twice expressed his displeasure for US acting as ‘police’ in Afghanistan and reiterated his intention to withdraw US forces from the country. Although he did not give any timeline for doing so, according to the US-Taliban agreement signed in February this year, US troops are set to completely withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months. As the November US elections approaches, the option of complete withdrawal before the election day also seems to be a real option on the table.
With these developments, the Afghan peace process is likely to pick up pace. However, rushing the process will be a catastrophic mistake. The US-Taliban peace agreement left many issues of national and international concern for the intra-Afghan negotiations. They included the issue of the type of government (Taliban demand an Islamic Emirate), the mechanisms for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the Taliban, and the broader future role of the group. While these are truly matters to be resolved by Afghans themselves, support of the US and international stakeholders for the Afghan republic remains vital. Any deal that weakens the position of the Afghan Republic, centred around the Afghan government, will sow the seeds for a future disaster.
Almost 50% of countries that emerge from conflicts revert to hostilities within ten years. Without a significant shift in Taliban demands and regional rivalries, returning back to hostilities, should the peace negotiations even succeed, remains a real possibility for Afghanistan. However, this will not just be a matter of concern for Afghans, but the entire international community, especially the US. At stake is not only the hard-earned achievements of the past 18 years, costing hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money and lives of thousands of military personnel and even more civilian lives, but also a real threat to lives of innocent people across the globe exists.
An outcome from the upcoming intra-Afghan negotiations that undermines the Afghan government, including its key demands, and emboldens the position of the Taliban, would be devastating. Unfortunately, 18 years on since overthrowing the Taliban regime, there are still many vulnerabilities in the country. Major political differences exist within the Afghan political circles. Regional rivalries over influencing the peace process and its outcome threatens the process and its aftermath. Safe havens in and active support and funding for insurgents by neighbouring countries are still present. These susceptibilities will, undoubtedly, be utilised by the Taliban and their supporters to embolden their position, at the cost of the Afghan government. In such a scenario, a return of violence will not be a matter of if but when. This will again create the conditions for the formation of a vicious network of violence, criminality, corruption, narcotics and even terrorism. In our globalised world, this will not merely be the problem of Afghanistan, but the whole world, as the 9/11 attacks showed.
What is needed is a close collaboration between the international community, especially the US, and the Afghan Republic, with the Afghan government at its core. The international community can and must play a constructive role in creating national, regional and international consensus for the Afghan peace process to ensure an outcome that would result in a lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Reaching national consensus within Afghanistan is challenging but vital. In previous sets of intra-Afghan dialogues and in negotiations with the US, the Taliban displayed a surprising level of cohesion. Facing them in negotiations will be the Islamic 'Republic' of Afghanistan, comprised of the Afghan government, influential political figures, representatives of the civil society and Afghan Islamic scholars. As some major political differences exist within this side and given the influence and interference of regional countries, the Republic camp is fragile in its current form.
However, unity within the Republic and a joint position on a set of core principles and red lines is the only key to success of the peace process as well as a lasting peace and stability. Despite the differences, all elements of the Afghan Republic realise the common threat that they face. For Afghans, at stake in the negotiations is the new way of life, the norms and values of the post-Taliban Afghanistan, freedom of women, the vibrant civil society, the government and its institutions, and even their personal security. With so much at stake, Afghans have no choice but to work together with the government and unite. All their difference must be deferred. Now is the time to unite for peace.
Ultimately, we, the people of Afghanistan, will have to create the conditions for a lasting peace and stability in our country. We hope to form the necessary mechanisms for creating and sustaining national, regional and global consensus on peace in Afghanistan. However, continued support of the international community for the government of Afghanistan during the negotiations and its implementation phase and beyond will be required. The war in Afghanistan is not just ours. Short-term elections considerations must not hinder long-term interests. We have come a long way together, let’s go it all the way.
Yasir Qanooni, is a PhD student at King’s College London, currently Field Researching in Afghanistan. Prior to his PhD candidacy, Yasir worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan serving as a Diplomat at the Embassy of Afghanistan in London.
Images from: ARG, Bangkokpost & NewYorkPost