Peace prospects in Afghanistan

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 06.03.20

(Under a pseudonym: Anwar Ali)

Peace has been the most deluded concept in Afghanistan since 1991. Afghanistan might
not be in need of peace, but peace needs Afghanistan to accomplish itself on a rugged
terrain.

On February 29, in Doha (Qatar), the representatives of the United States (US) and Afghan
Taliban assembled to offer peace a chance to prevail over Afghanistan. The US Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo and Taliban co-founder and deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani
Baradar penned the accord. The representatives agreed that the US and its allies would
withdraw their forces from Afghanistan within 14 months, if Afghan Taliban abided by the
agreement, now called the Doha Accord.  

Though the accord is hailed as a watershed moment in the post 9/11 phase, the accord is
conditional. That is, if Afghan Taliban did not comply with the accord, the US would not
withdraw its forces from Afghanistan.  

A conditional timeline of 14 months has been set for the withdrawal of all the US and NATO
troops from Afghanistan. As per the accord, after about four months, the first symbolic
reduction of troops would take place by reducing the size of the US forces from around 12,
000 to 8, 600. If the accord went smoothly, the rest of the months would witness an
incremental departure of the US-NATO troops from Afghanistan.  

This is a major adjustment because as per the Bilateral Security Agreements, which took
place between Afghanistan and the US and with the NATO in 2014, the US-NATO troops
would stay in Afghanistan till 2024 to assist the Afghan National Army to carry out
operations against the Taliban insurgency. If indigenous uprising is over, there is no need
for the US-NATO forces to linger on their stay in Afghanistan. This is quite understandable.  

The accord focuses on three main points. First, Afghan Taliban would enter into an intra-
Afghan dialogue with the Kabul regime to devise an agreed power-sharing formula.
Second, Afghan Taliban would refrain from permitting Islamic militants of any hue to gain a
foothold in Afghanistan to launch attacks on foreign lands including the US. Third, Afghan
Taliban would resort to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.  

An intra-Afghan dialogue would start by March 10 to devise a formula how to share power
with Afghan Taliban. It is a challenging job as the system of democracy is more entrenched
in Afghanistan than the system of Islamic Emirate that Afghan Taliban intend to reinstall.
The Taliban’s revered system of Islamic Emirate remained functional for five years (from
1996 to 2001), whereas the system of constitutional democracy has seen daylight of about
eighteen years (from 2002 to 2020). In the recently held Presidential elections, though the
voter turnout was low, the system of constitutional democracy remained intact.  

The Doha accord has permitted Afghan Taliban to negotiate their way into the
constitutional democracy and not to think of replacing the constitutional democracy with the
Islamic Emirate system. Further, the accord also enjoins upon Afghan Taliban to appease
human rights and women rights groups before securing positions in the government.
Afghan Taliban have to give a clear verdict on their past practices of flagellation and
chopping limbs which were incongruous to the age the world was passing through.  

Afghanistan’s constitution permits that certain administrative jobs such as governors of
provinces to be awarded to the representatives of Afghan Taliban. Otherwise, if Afghan
Taliban are accepted as a political party, they have to get their party registered with the
election commission. Afterwards, either Afghan Taliban may join the government as
governors or ask the election commission to hold the presidential elections de novo.  

Within the context of intra-Afghan dialogue, as a gesture of reconciliation, both Afghan
Taliban and the Kabul regime would exchange prisoners. This is another thorny issue
because the Kabul regime would have to release 5000 Taliban fighters in exchange for
1000 prisoners, who are mostly state soldiers. The Kabul government under Ashraf Ghani
is dithering on this point.   

Unlike the past, this time the US did not demand an immediate ceasefire from Afghan
Taliban. Perhaps, there is a mature understanding that Afghan Taliban may be united when
they are fighting against an adversary, but they are not monolithic when the matter of truce
is concerned. One challenge the factious state of Afghan Taliban poses is that how many
administrative posts Afghan Taliban would demand to placate the heads of the factions
buttressing their ranks. Any faction displeased with an offer would easily resort to violating
ceasefire. An intra-Taliban rift may also appear to sabotage the whole peace process.  

Beyond the hype of the Doha accord, peace in Afghanistan is still fragile. In the shape of
the accord, though a moment of reprieve has visited the war-ravaged Afghanistan, the
history of Afghanistan is less supportive of such accords. The concept of power sharing is
still alien to Afghan Taliban who think of absolutism embedded in Islamic Emirate.
Practically, Afghan Taliban, a claimant to power by force, are still untutored in the theory of
relativism: to content with relative power. The antipathy factor does exist between the Kabul
regime and Afghan Taliban, who are being forced to come to terms with each other. In
short, prospects for fostering affinity between any elected representative of a province and
a non-elected governor of the same province are both bleak and dim.  

The additional challenge is that the Kabul regime itself is instable: both the main
contenders for the post of President, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, are jostling for
declaring themselves winners for the post of the President of Afghanistan. The timing of the
accord may weaken the Kabul regime and broaden the split between both contenders of
the President’s position – to the detriment of Afghanistan’s peace.  

An interesting aspect of the Doha accord is that before the conclusion of the accord, all
foreign dignitaries ranging from the US President to representatives of the United Nations
propitiated Pakistan by flattering its efforts. The underlying assumption was obvious:
Pakistan should not be annoyed to act as a spoiler.

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