Peace Talks in Afghanistan: Before starting negotiation

hazratbahar-afghantribuneWinter in Kabul is at its peak, but political arena particularly for peace talks starts to warm. After about six months delay, actors (Afghanistan, Pakistan, the U.S. and China) agreed to resume peace talks. Meanwhile, largely considered monolithic group, Taliban has been reportedly split following the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death; however, they intensified attacks throughout Afghanistan. This piece attempts to explore some possible challenges for nascent Peace Talks.

The very word and notion of peace has been misused for almost 10 years. At the beginning ‘war for peace’ was the prevailing feature of the conflict and later on it made to election campaign and peace became the most outspoken notion among the runners for presidency. Although countrywide surveys showed that peace was the first demand of Afghans, it rarely made top priority list of the belligerents and attracted symbolic attention.

Immediately after the collapse of the Taliban regime, there was a great chance of reconciliation even some were willing to stay and live peacefully if their security and survival were guaranteed. But international forces opposed such compromise and regarded it the violation of their definition of terrorism. The Afghan government also did not insist, bearing in mind the political culture of the country, the winners either unlikely to compromise or want lion’s share.

International forces soften their stance vis-à-vis the armed opponents of the government (the Taliban and Islamic party of Gulbadin Hikmatyar) when the later proved to pose a serious threat for them.  Former president Hamid Karzai established peace council to reach out to the Taliban. But this time, Taliban considering themselves winners, did not even want to negotiate until international forces fully withdraw.

After about 10-year war and casualties, it was proved that war is not an ultimate means to bring peace and stability, but negotiations are. Although political will of all actors were mattered, Taliban opened a political office in Doha of Qatar. It did not yield desired outcome except the prisoners swap between the United States of America and Taliban.

Now once again peace talks has been heating up. On the eve of talks, some points need to be addressed before starting negotiations:

The word peace per se is open to question when we contextualize and relate it to Afghanistan. Therefore, terminology matters; terrorism, peace, national interests, reconcilable groups and the type of government are some terms that have either not been clearly defined or have been strictly defined by one party/group. One among other shortcomings of the previous peace attempts was lack of a clear definition of reconciliation. The form, which was made compulsory to be signed by anyone who wanted to reconcile, seemed more like a formal surrender letter. Reconciliation and surrender are two different terms with separate meanings and connotations.

The National Unity Government (NUG) so far has improved relation with foreign countries. Confidence between President Ashraf Ghani and the United States seems much better than of Karzai, however, speculations are mounting regarding the United States’ intention and will.   ‘International forces fights for their own interests’ is a broad and vague issue. Even ex-president said ‘after 13 years as a president, I still don’t know what the U.S.A. really wants here’. Pakistan, the most vital player in peace talks and negotiations, has been propagating that ‘peace in Afghanistan is peace in Pakistan’. Ex-president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf’s speeches of today and that of during his tenure are contradicted. Carlotta Gall, the author of the wrong enemy, concluded that ‘Pakistan’s action tells a different story.’

Freedom of direct involved players is prerequisite for any pact, particularly in this landmark deal. Keeping it blurred could endanger the whole process anytime. Although actors and groups claim to be fully independent, this claim either needs be proved or a certain degree of leverage of the other ought to be nodded. Though this scenario seems hypothetical or almost impossible, it could help understand the root causes which leads to successful conflict resolution.

Disintegrating groups, at least for the time being, may not benefit anyone. Having in mind that belligerents groups are subject to manipulation, ‘divide and rule’ approach is highly likely to have counterproductive results. Directly involved actors such as the Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami (Islamic party of Gulbaddin Hikmatyar) and somehow as Afghan government reportedly have been split. After the demise of Mullah Omar, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor declared himself successor but was opposed by among other Mohammad Rasool Akhund. Infighting allegedly erupted in Zabul and Herat provinces. It seems a reportedly reconciliatory attempt in Quetta of Pakistan did not mend the rift. Taliban did not unanimously speak of peace talks while Mullah Omar was supposedly alive. There were various accounts of a dubbed ‘Muree peace talks’ that were held between Afghan government, the Taliban, Pakistan, U.S.A and China in July 2015 in 60 km of Islamabad, Pakistan. NUG argues that they have full authority of brokering peace deal. Constitutionally speaking, he does. However, parliament, newly established (protection & stability) council, civil societies, tribal and religious leader have played leading role in Afghan politics.

Exclusion of active players may prolong the conflict as it did after the Bonn conference in late 2001. Both the Taliban and Islamic party were excluded. Later on a UN envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, termed that exclusion ‘the original sin’. No directly involved actor should be marginalized and excluded. Although here are other groups that threaten regional stability, their vision and goals are more global, so they are considered not to be part of this negotiation.

Lastly, actions matter not the words and statements. Fights have been intensified throughout Afghanistan. It is impossible to stop it overnight, but once negotiations start, the intensity should be gradually decreased. Besides that, delisting of Taliban from UN sanction list should immediately follow the deliberate decline in attacks.  It could be used for trust building and sincerity.


Bahar writes mostly on social, political and security issues. He tweets at @hazratbahar

The Afghan Tribune | Hazrat Bahar | Published: February 04, 2016, 01:30 PM


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