Will the bilateral talks between the United States and the Taliban lead to sustainable peace without any cost in Afghanistan?

By Amina Zurmati and Qudratullah Zurmati (sophomore students of Political Science and Public Administration at American University of Afghanistan)

Afghanistan has entered a qualitatively new stage in its social and political complex life. The 40-year-old unceasing war has turned the once flourishing and prosperous eastern country into a fragile state and a stamp of ‘safe haven’ for terrorists has been put on; making it one of the poorest and backward territories in the world. Negotiations with the Taliban, which theoretically can decrease violence and change the face of modern Afghanistan, have finally begun and these talks are the only possible way to reduce outrage and tensions in this country.

But to what extent, the absence of President Ashraf Ghani’s democratically elected and internationally recognized administration in a negotiating table that could take decisions; and decide the future of the country raises questions about who is deciding what about Afghanistan’s fate which seems more than a failure of political correctness. This indicates that Afghans do not know what is going to happen in their lives and what would they experience in the future. For a sustainable peace to be achieved, the inclusion of the Afghan government in every level of the peace talks is vital. Whereas it’s absence would lead to serious cost.

Nowadays, the situation of the country is chronically tough. On the meantime, the apocalypse – repetition of the 1989 events – is expectable. 

A cracked history

It was February 15, 1989, when a Soviet general retreated into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) across a bridge from Afghanistan, ending the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Mr. Sedney, a U.S. diplomat and a senior associate with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, states that while the officials and aides 30 years ago, who were on duty in the White House Situation Room, toasted “victory” and traded high fives in their decade-long campaign, they had no clue that the poorly done, partial agreements that had “ended” the war in Afghanistan had instead set in motion forces that resulted in more tragedies that last for decades and continue to bring Afghans threats today (Sedney, 2019). 

The Soviet’s troop withdrawal was the final step in a series of peace talks among the USSR, the United States, Pakistan, the Afghan mujahedeen, and others in the late 1980s. However, those talks never included neither the then-Afghan government nor any representatives of the vast majority of Afghans due to the continues-insistence of Pakistan and the mujahedeen. Also, the then-talks never cover key issues for a real peace such as creating a stable political system, ensuring social accountability and justice, women’s rights and building a working economy (Sedney, 2019). 

The country’s violence was not ended by that faux peace as we know too sadly now.  Rather, it led to a vicious civil war, the rise of the extremist Taliban regime, women’s massive abuse, human rights violations, hundreds of thousands of casualties, immense destruction, millions more refugees, and an Afghanistan that continues to suffer from violence. That poorly done peace accord, for the rest of the world, unleashed chaotic forces with more extreme ideas that led to the emergence of Al-Qaeda and its offshoots such as Boko Haram and ISIS, dealing with terror and annihilation from New York to Indonesia (Sedney, 2019). 

Almost 30 years later, on February 25, 2019, in Qatar, a U.S. team led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, convened the latest in a series of talks with the Taliban aimed to end the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. The militants group have so far refused to directly negotiate with the Afghan government and the talks, at the insistence of the Taliban, do not include the Afghan government or any representatives of the more than 90 percent of the citizens who fear and oppose the Taliban, giving current’s talks an eerie similarity to those that failed 30 years before(Calamur, 2019).

A doomed agreement

After rounds of peace talks with the Taliban, Khalilzad announced that the U.S. and the Taliban had arrived at a “framework” agreement for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and assurance from the Taliban that they would no longer support terrorist groups. Khalilzad has stated that the agreement should also include some form of “intra-Afghan talks” and a ceasefire and believes “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” (Walsh, 2019).

However, for many Afghans these assurances are nothing more than a doubt because they still remember the way Afghanistan was abandoned by the U.S. after the defeat of the Soviets and how the U.S. turned over Afghanistan to abusive warlords in 2001 by the time the U.S. sought rapid “victory” in Afghanistan before shifting to its major target, Iraq. Neither the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1989 led to a peace in Afghanistan nor the U.S. abandonment of the country in the 1990s did make the U.S. more secure. Similarly, a bad peace is likely to pave the way to even greater calamities today. And without the presence of the Afghan government and a voice for the large majority of Afghans at the peace talks, these negotiations would lead to an unbalanced, unfair “peace” agreement which will unravel quickly and cause Afghanistan to once more descend into chaos, but in an even more dangerous and unstable surrounding environment(Sedney, 2019).

To forestall this, the Taliban must not be allowed to set terms for the talks and it is vital for the U.S. to do so. Also, the inclusion of the Afghan government at every level of the talks is necessary and its presence must be accompanied by empowered delegates of women, young people and minorities (Sedney, 2019).

StoraiTapesh, Deputy Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Network, briefed from Kabul, saying that “whereas Afghan women are cautiously hopeful, they are also worried that their rights will be compromised in the peace process”(para. 9). Afghan women don’t know what is going to happen in their life in the future. The days of the Taliban would come if the enshrined rights will not be guaranteed in these talks with the direct inclusion of women.  Among other demands, she called for equal participation of women in the peace process, efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence, the creation of a mechanism to register women’s complaints, an end to impunity, and the inclusion of gender-awareness provisions in any final peace accord (United Nations Security Council, 2019). 

            But the U.S. so far places its faith in an illegitimate, non-state actor which is feared by most Afghans due to their severe treatments. According to a recent survey by Asia Foundation, 82 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban and 90 percent say they fear it. The backward, harsh Taliban’s rule before 2001, which continues today in the Taliban’s control areas, still weighs on afghan minds (Asia Foundation, 2018). If the U.S. negotiators continue on this current path—driven mostly, it seems by a dangerous over eagerness to wash hands of Afghanistan—there will be a reckoning. The rush to leave while it could take months or years to send the dedicated troops home by claiming a hollow victory will be paid at first for by the blood of Afghans, but by the sufferings of many others in the future. And Afghanistan will likely lose the many notable economic, democratic and social gains of the last 17 years (Sedney, 2019). 

“We have the same process,” says Fardaws Kawish, deputy of editor-in-chief of Hasht-e-Subh Daily, a leading independent newspaper. “The Soviets wanted to withdraw their troops and reach an agreement to end the war, and now the United States also wants to withdraw its troops and reach an agreement to end the war” (as cited in Mehrdad, 2019, para. 2).

In 1989, the Soviets troop began to withdrawal without agreeing on an accord to determine the Afghan state’s fate. Three years later, when the communist-led state collapsed, the former resistance forces who were against the occupation of the Soviets took control of the country. The Taliban, which defeated the resistance forces in 1996, now demand a full U.S. withdrawal before talking with current Afghan state (Mehrdad, 2019).

It was the collapse of the Afghan state in 1990s that led to the 9/11 attack and the uprising of jihadists near the borders.

“There should be an accord before the U.S. withdraws troops,” says Kawish. “The U.S. withdrawal should be part of an accord agreed between the U.S., the Taliban, and the government” (as cited in Mehrdad, 2019, para. 4). 

If the U.S. follows the same path that was taken by the Soviets in 1989 and says by hiding behind a fig leaf that Afghanistan’s future is up to Afghan themselves, without others’ role, indeed the U.S. is ignoring the fact that it was them that brought the same corrupt warlords back into power in 2001 who created the civil war that enabled the rise of the Taliban (Sedney, 2019). 

Those warlords joined Hamid Karzai the former president of Afghanistan in meeting the Taliban in Moscow in February, again with no representatives of the Afghan government or Afghan youth present. If this is what Afghan leadership will look like in the future, Afghanistan is headed for another chaos and danger.

As U.S. has learned that their hasty exit from Iraq helped in the rise of ISIS, similarly, the current trajectory negotiations with the Taliban and the agreement such as the U.S. troop pullout and the exclusion of the Afghan government from the talks will risk intensifying security threats to the Afghans in the future (Sedney, 2019). 

As the U.S in over the last 17 years invested dearly to help empower and educate Afghan women, build and sustain an independent media, nurture the country along a path to democracy, and plant seeds of economic prosperity. It is necessary for the U.S. as well to include the Afghan government in peace talks to achieve sustainable peace and to maintain the achievement of the past 17-years through “intra-afghan” talks. Like Obama, the former U.S. president referred these talks should be an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned”(Calamur, 2019, para. 10) peace process. Also, in the current situations when Afghanistan needs the U.S. as a backbone of stability and security, it will be a stroke of epic hypocrisy for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan now especially if the possibilities of Taliban’s return to power could be facilitated by the terms of U.S. departure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Calamur, K. (2019). The Afghan Government Is Missing From Afghanistan’s Peace Process. The             Atlantic.Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/02/

            afghanistan-government-united-states-taliban/582487/

Mehrdad, E. (2019). Can the Afghan State Survive the Peace Process? The Diplomat. Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2019/03/can-the-afghan-state-survive-the-peace-process/

Sedney, S. D. (2019). Bush ignored history going into Afghanistan. Trump is oblivious pulling     out. The Daily Beast. Retrieved From https://www.thedailybeast.com/bush-ignored-            history-going-  into-afghanistan-trump-is-oblivious-pulling-out

The Asia Foundation. (2018). Afghanistan in 2018: A Survey of the Afghan People. Retrieved             fromhttps://asiafoundation.org/where-we-work/afghanistan/survey/

United Nation Security Council. (2019). Success of the Afghan peace process will depend on             internationalsupport for local effort, special representative tells Security Council.     Retrieved from https://reliefweb.int/report/afghanistan/success-afghanistan-peace-   process-will-depend-   international-support-local-efforts

Walsh, J. (2019). The State of Play in U.S.-Taliban Talks and the Afghan Peace Process.United    States Institute of Peace.Retrieved fromhttps://www.usip.org/publications/2019/04/state   -play-us-taliban-talks-and-afghan-peace-process

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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