Afghanistan: A 4-step peace formula
NOT only the people of Afghanistan but also its immediate neighbours, Pakistan, Iran and China along with the Central Asian States (CISs) are variously concerned about who will fill the security vacuum being left by the departing US troops.
The continuing violence with Taliban making territorial gains at a fast pace seemingly indicates that they are likely to be returning to Kabul after all.
Afghans, who on their part once felt goodwill toward their neighbour for hosting refugees after the Soviet war, now see Pakistan as the only country seeking to keep Afghanistan subservient and underdeveloped, with pro-Pakistan Taliban in tow.
On the other hand, however, the resurgence of a militant Islamic emirate in Afghanistan is being seen by a vast majority of people in Pakistan threatening the progress Islamabad has already achieved against the domestic terror organizations including the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) by emboldening Pakistan’s religious militants.
Pakistan, therefore, would be in the right frame of mind and mood to use its influence with the Taliban to ensure that Afghanistan is not again dominated by a regime that is permissive toward terrorist networks and deprives its citizens of basic rights.
As such, Pakistan needs to intensify its efforts to ensure that the Taliban are good-faith participants in the peace process.
One should not ignore the fact that Islamabad’s historical role providing the Taliban insurgency with support and sanctuary has been one of the major reasons the NATO coalition failed for years to stabilize Afghanistan and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Also, America, it is believed, would find common interest in this area with China, Russia and Iran, none of whom wish to see the re-emergence of an Afghan Emirate
. These powers are likely, it is assumed, to overcome their differences and pool collective diplomatic and other resources to ensure a peaceful settlement.
Ershad Ahmadi, deputy foreign minister for political affairs in Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014 and currently president of Kabul Compass, a strategic analysis firm in an article (A Blueprint for Peace in Afghanistan After U.S.
Troops Leave, published in Politico magazine on June 9, 2021) maintains that the question for the Afghan people is no longer about the future of US military involvement.
“Rather, it’s about what Afghans need to do, with the help of their partners, to ensure the country contributes to the region’s overall stability and economic potential, and is at peace with itself and its neighbours,” he points out.
In Ahmadi’s opinion as the intra-Afghan talks resume, Afghans and their international partners should keep in mind the following factors: financial stability, distribution of power, nonalignment, and inclusivity.
To bring about a settlement along these lines, the United States and its allies, including Pakistan and other regional players, and, most importantly, Afghans themselves, all have a role to play.
It is critical that the United States understand these dynamics in order to give this round of talks the best chance of setting Afghanistan up for peace and stability on its own terms.
“The first consideration must be putting Afghanistan on sound financial footing.
There can be no genuine sovereign independence for a country that is unable to raise sufficient domestic revenue to sustain its own public administration and security forces.
Afghanistan’s long-term financial security should be considered just as important as elections and constitutional reform. “To be clear, international assistance will remain part of the picture for the foreseeable future.
Still, as part of an eventual settlement, Afghan leaders should secure agreements on ways to build the country’s revenue base.
This will include liberating all Afghans—men and women—to work, engage in business, and otherwise contribute to the economy.
“Second, any settlement should reflect the reality that Afghanistan is a pluralistic society.
This pluralism is manifested in the basic geography of the nation, which boasts snow-capped mountains as well as extensive plains; resource-rich regions alongside much poorer ones; dense urban areas and sparsely populated rural regions.
There is also ethno-cultural diversity, and of course each province has its own aspirations and development priorities.
“It has become fashionable over the decades to believe that only a centralized state can contain this pluralism.
The impulse to over-centralize state power leads Kabul to attempt to implement national policies that may work in one region but fail badly in another. ‘Kabul-centric’ policies often fail to appreciate these realities on the ground.
“Too often, Kabul plays a life-and-death role in Afghanistan’s politics. For politicians affiliated with various regions, security for their part of the country often requires exerting control in Kabul.
Failure to be part of the winning political force can mean getting shut out from accessing state resources.
The concentration of power and resources in Kabul also means an imbalance in economic opportunities: Young Afghans in particular are very aware that there are limited prospects in the peripheral regions, even as the population of Kabul has grown fivefold during the 20 years of U.S. military involvement.
“Relatedly, the concentration of power in the hands of a single official, namely the president, has proven counterproductive.
Sadly, there are many examples in Afghan history in which capricious decisions from Kabul have led to violent insurgencies from the rural areas.
Decades of failed attempts at over centralized governance suggest it is time to seriously consider constitutionally structured decentralization.
The provinces, where the country’s diversity is truly on display, need the capacity to innovate and manage their own affairs while remaining part of the constitutional structure of the unitary government.
“A third element of a long-term peace agenda is for Afghanistan to stand as a non-aligned regional power. The country has over 2,000 years of experience dealing with competing powers in its backyard.
One important lesson is that while Afghanistan must be an open and engaged partner to all neighbours, it cannot be aligned with one or another side, because firm alliances create insecurities among rival powers.
Afghanistan’s neighbours will need to accept this non-aligned position, for example through the endorsement of a regional understanding on cooperation and non-interference in Afghanistan.
Such an understanding will enable trade, commerce, investment, transit and other important exchanges that will advance peace and prosperity in the region.
“Fourth, political elites in Kabul need to overcome their differences. The current government suffers from a serious lack of inclusivity and has not shown an inclination to unite the country’s disparate political groups.
They can be found in Afghanistan’s High Council of Peace, in both Houses of Parliament, among senior political leaders, within civil society, and among a new generation of young leaders across the country.
“A transitional government that includes the Taliban and preserves the current institutions, including the existing framework of citizen rights, is the most realistic solution.
This will give all Afghans the opportunity, time and space to negotiate a long-term vision for a common future,” asserts Ahmadi.
— The writer is veteran journalist and a former editor based in Islamabad.