SUCCESS and failure of the Afghan peace process depends on the trajectories that the US and Afghan government follow during ongoing intra-Afghan dialogue. Ostensibly, the US is trying to end Afghan war responsibly, deliberately, on such terms which may yield an assurance of safety of its core national interests in Afghanistan and the region. In this context, the US Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley has stated that pulling out of the residual 4,500 troops depends on the Taliban reducing attacks and making progress in peace talks with the Kabul government.
Peace process is moving ahead via formal as well as informal channels. Former Prime Minster of Afghanistan Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s three-day visit to Pakistan marked the revival of contact. As an erstwhile Mujahedeen leader, he has the reputation of an Afghan leader having friendly disposition towards Pakistan. This was the second high-level visit from Afghanistan in recent weeks. Earlier, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the chief of Afghan High Peace Council, visited Pakistan in September. Hekmatyar belongs to the exclusive club of veteran Afghan resistance leadership who at the prime of their youth left their studies to struggle against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He symbolizes the agony and pain of his generation, many of his ‘Comrades at Arms’ have left for their heavenly abode without seeing the end of turmoil in their country.
Landmark event of the visit was his Public Talk at premier think-tank of Pakistan, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad, where he outlined his vision of Afghanistan’s future, charted the challenges and pointed towards a viable way forward. Former Premier of Afghanistan said, “The only durable solution for peace in the Afghanistan lies in withdrawal of US forces and establishment of a non-aligned, independent and sovereign government by the Afghan representatives”. He also urged India to “settle the Kashmir dispute according to wishes of Kashmiri people”. During the visit, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar held talks with Pakistani national leadership, including President, Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. He discussed several issues, including the peace push, Afghan refugees, bilateral trade and student scholarships, with the Pakistani leadership. He praised Pakistan by saying that getting the Taliban to the negotiating table without Islamabad’s backing was not possible. “I am happy that Pakistan has adopted a new policy, supporting the peace process and reducing tension between the two neighbours,” he said. He announced starting separate negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to help bring peace to the war-torn country. “We have decided to start our own negotiations with the Taliban.
First, it would be between the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami, and then all other political parties will join us,” Hekmatyar announced. Hekmatyar said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants to remain in power, that constitutes “a big hurdle in [the progress of ongoing] intra-Afghan dialogue.” He accused Ghani of not consulting with political leaders before starting talks with the insurgents. “We support the peace agreement signed between the US and the Taliban despite reservations,” he said. However, “Peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without bringing all stakeholders on board,” he added. Hekmatyar criticized India and Iran, saying these were the only two states supporting the Ghani Administration.
Lorne Cook reported for the Associated Press that: “NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on 21 October that the military alliance will not leave Afghanistan until security conditions allow, even as some US troops might be hoping to be back home in time for Christmas”. On October 19, the US special envoy to Afghanistan warned that “distressingly high” levels of violence, notably in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand province threaten to derail peace talks. Reduction in violence is the latest American buzz word that implies Taliban should stop fighting while the Afghan National Security Forces and the US led occupation forces should keep brow beating Taliban, with impunity and in clear violation of February 29, 2020 US-Taliban Agreement. Hekmatyar said it was the requirement of justice that those who have sacrificed for Afghanistan for so many years should have the right to govern the country now. “We have lost one million people in the war. We have six million refugees and over three million internally-displaced people. We cannot tolerate foreign forces anymore on our land to kill our innocent people,” he said. He said the US has been defeated in Afghanistan without achieving any goals and considers the corrupt and incompetent Kabul government the main reason for its failure. It will be a mistake if the US now adopts another policy other than leaving Afghanistan, he added.
He proposed that Afghan groups should have the opportunity to enter into negotiations with each other at a neutral venue. The discussion agenda would be withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan and an independent sovereign government. The other national issues such as constitution and type of government should be left for later talks after peace is restored. These are national issues and no external forces have the right to decide about these matters, he added. He hoped the Americans would not repeat the deadly mistake of the Soviets who established their puppet government in Kabul before leaving Afghanistan. While talking about the current situation in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, Hekmatyar said that India should learn from the defeat of the (former) Soviet Union and NATO in Afghanistan, which proves force alone cannot resolve any issue. “I condemn atrocities and barbarism against innocent people in Kashmir and other parts of the world,” he said. “The Kashmir issue cannot be resolved by force. India should resolve it as per the will of Kashmiri people.”
During his meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan on 20 October, Hekmatyar appreciated Pakistan’s positive role in facilitating the Afghan peace process. Prime Minister Imran underscored historic bonds of friendship and brotherhood between Pakistan and Afghanistan; he also expressed concerns about the disruptive role of ‘spoilers’, within and outside Afghanistan. Journey to Afghan peace is up for a bumpy ride. All realistic assessments point towards bleak prospects of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan—at least in immediate timeframe. While Americans could soon become indifferent, Pakistan may have to confront a long-term problem at hand handle.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.