Is Afghanistan on the verge of peace?

Daily: Weekly Cutting Edge
Date: 01.09.19

September 28 this year is the date for the Afghan presidential election. The US wants a
peace deal with the Taliban finalized at the earliest. On August 22, in Doha, the US and the
Taliban kick-started the ninth round of Afghan peace talks. In case a peace deal is
reached, an interim government will be formed, the Taliban will join it, and they would
contest the election.

In case, however, a peace deal is not finalized, one of two events may happen. Either the
presidential election would be delayed or the Taliban would be excluded for another five
year term. Both scenarios are odious. Following the first scenario, if the presidential
election is postponed, it will be delayed for at least six months to be held in March 2020,
after the winter season is over. No doubt, an attempt to postpone the election for one
month is not out of question. On one hand, a prolong delay may offer the US enough time
to negotiate peace terms in a better conducive way, whereas, on the other hand, the
protracted hiatus may prompt a constitutional crisis. The latter option may also buttress the
resolve of the Taliban that the US was acquiescing in to meeting their demands.

Following the second scenario, if the presidential election takes place on its due date, the
Taliban will be felt abandoned. For any inclusion, they would be having either of the two
options for themselves to avail: first, disrupt the election and any consequent Kabul regime;
and second, wait patiently for the next presidential election to be held in 2024.

The Taliban are known for their patience, as they claim that time is on their side. The issue
of impatience, however, lies with the US, which wants to withdraw its forces from
Afghanistan to finish the unfinished agenda of former US President Barack Obama. Before
his presidential electoral win in 2009, Obama had pledged that he would withdraw forces
from Iran and Afghanistan. He did withdraw forces from Iraq in December 2011, but after
the extraction a huge cost in terms of man and resources had to be paid by the government
of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Around 2013, Iraq saw the rise of the Islamic State which
extended its tentacles to Syria in June 2014. Resultantly, the US had to send its forces to
Syria to counterbalance the void the US forces had created earlier in Iraq. The horrors of
the Iraq experiment constrained Obama from withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, where
the threat of the Islamic State was also on the rise.

In December 2014 (or on 1 January 2015), the US entered into a US-Afghanistan Bilateral
Security Agreement to keep the presence of US fighting troops around ten thousands in
Afghanistan for another ten years. The purpose was to undergird the Kabul regime to
ensure its survival against the onslaught of the Taliban. That was the minimum standard or
presence set by the Obama administration in Afghanistan. Incumbent US President Donald
Trump is trying to fight against this minimal presence regime. During his electoral campaign
in 2016, Trump had criticized Obama for his failure to total withdrawal of US troops from
Afghanistan. Trump is now in trouble what to do before he starts his next presidential
campaign in 2020.

Generally, the objective of the peace talks is two pronged: first, a sovereign democratic
Afghanistan; and second, an Afghanistan peaceful with other countries of the world.
Prospects for making such an Afghanistan are dim. There are certain reasons for it. All
summed up in four noes. First, the Taliban are not believer in the Constitution, considering
it secular not meant for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban have not yet
reconciled with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan enshrined in the prevalent Afghan
Constitution of 2004, a product of Afghan Constitutional Loya Jirga. Since 2004, when the
Afghan Constitution was framed and Afghanistan started experiencing constitutional
democracy representing a federal presidential system, the Afghans have got used to it. On
the other hand, the Taliban consider the constitution invalid.

Second, the Taliban denounce elections held under the constitution as a sham. Other than
their hatred for the constitution, the Taliban know that they would be rejected in the polls
and that would be a death sentence for their militant movement claiming to represent the
Afghans, especially the Pashtuns. Resultantly, the Taliban want to bypass the electoral
process. On the other hand, permitting the Taliban to bypass the electoral process and join
the government may not be acceptable to the Afghans who have tied their hopes to
constitutional democracy. The Taliban want to install a Shura to run Afghanistan along the
line of Islamic injunctions of their interpretation. The Afghans see women rights and women
education direct casualties of the would-be Taliban rule, as happened from 1996 to 2001.
Unfortunately, before the commencement of the ninth round of peace talks, the Taliban
have given a hint of their intent to disrupt the election with suicide attacks. This was a sheer
ultimatum. They have warned the Afghans against participating in the election, if the US did
not come to terms with them.

Third, the Taliban consider the incumbent Kabul regime a puppet government. The Taliban
have refused to negotiate with the Kabul regime, calling it western-backed and having no
root in Afghan society.

Fourth, the Taliban still believe that the 9/11 event was not the al-Qaeda work. They think
that it was a job of an insider. In an interview to a foreign daily, this understanding was
revealed by Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson for the Taliban political office in Qatar. This
admission is bound to open space for the revival of al-Qaeda and the renewal of terrorist
attacks in the world. It means the danger persists obstinately.

The Afghanistan of today is at a crossroads. If it permits the Taliban to bypass the
constitution, disturbance can go down in society, and peace cannot be introduced.
Nevertheless, if the Taliban are not permitted to bypass the constitution, prospects for a
conflict are high. The likely scenario is that the Taliban would not strike a peace deal with
the US forces to live in peace with the Kabul regime.

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