Afghanistan The Peace Ini­tia­tive

The threat of Tal­iban mil­i­tancy is no longer limited to Afghanistan as a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of ex­trem­ism threat­ens Pak­istan’s ex­is­tence as well.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Aj­mal Shams

The threat of Tal­iban mil­i­tancy is no longer limited to Afghanistan.

As usual, the spring of­fen­sive by Tal­iban in­sur­gents has moved well into the sum­mer of­fen­sive. An in­creas­ing num­ber of at­tacks are be­ing reg­u­larly ex­e­cuted in dif­fer­ent parts of Afghanistan, in­clud­ing the cap­i­tal Kabul that has suf­fered a wave of sui­cide bomb­ings dur­ing the past sev­eral months. Last month, 14 civil­ians be­long­ing to the Shia sect were ex­e­cuted in the western Ghor prov­ince. The Tal­iban mil­i­tants were blamed for the in­ci­dent but the Tal­iban did not claim re­spon­si­bil­ity and the in­volve­ment of other groups who might have in­tended to trig­ger sec­tar­ian strife could not be ruled out.

Re­gard­less of whether the bru­tal killing was car­ried out by the Tal­iban or not, ter­ror­ist at­tacks are tak­ing place reg­u­larly around the coun­try with no ap­par­ent in­di­ca­tion of an end or at least a de­crease in fre­quency.

In 2013, the Tal­iban opened a po­lit­i­cal of­fice in Qatar. For the first time since their col­lapse in late 2001, the in­sur­gents had a for­mal ad­dress where they could be reached. How­ever, cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the ini­tia­tive raised sus­pi­cions about the sin­cer­ity of the ef­fort. The move was re­jected by the Afghan gov­ern­ment as the of­fice car­ried the sign and the flag of the Is­lamic Emi­rate. The Afghan gov­ern­ment con­demned the peace ef­fort, ac­cus­ing the U.S. of hav­ing a hid­den agenda and claim­ing that any peace di­a­logue with the Tal­iban should have been led by the Afghan gov­ern­ment it­self, not by oth­ers. To con­vince the Afghan side to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, the sign­board was re­moved. Yet, the dam­age had been done and the ef­fort ended fruit­lessly. Since then, there have been

no se­ri­ous at­tempts at re­sum­ing peace talks with the Tal­iban.

The coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal scene is now dom­i­nated by the elec­tion for the of­fice of pres­i­dent to suc­ceed Hamid Karzai. The elec­tion sea­son has some­what over­shad­owed the counter-ter­ror­ism ef­forts of the Afghan gov­ern­ment and its in­ter­na­tional part­ners. Yet, the is­sue is one of the top pri­or­i­ties of the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. Both Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, who faced each other in the run-off elec­tions, con­sider the peace process an im­por­tant is­sue. How­ever, the two have dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on how to deal with the Tal­iban. While Dr. Ab­dul­lah is bent on mil­i­tar­ily de­feat­ing the Tal­iban and other in­sur­gents along­side peace talks, Dr. Ghani is more in fa­vor of a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment. It is un­der­stand­able why Dr. Ab­dul­lah is against the in­te­gra­tion of the Tal­iban in any fu­ture setup. It was the North­ern Al­liance that de­feated the Tal­iban with the mil­i­tary support of the U.S. forces back in late 2001. The Tal­iban’s de­feat ul­ti­mately paved the way for the politico-mil­i­tary al­liance to take power in Kabul un­der the lead­er­ship of Hamid Karzai. There­fore, Dr. Ab­dul­lah’s point of view re­gard­ing the Tal­iban is­sue is quite nat­u­ral. Dr. Ghani, on the other hand, is more prag­matic in his ap­proach and prefers a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion by in­te­grat­ing the Tal­iban mil­i­tants into the fu­ture gov­ern­ment.

The Tal­iban in­sur­gency should be looked at within the larger sphere of global and re­gional power pol­i­tics where the vic­tim is Afghanistan the coun­try, due to its geostrate­gic lo­ca­tion. It should be noted that with the killing of the Al-Qaeda chief, Osama Bin Laden, who acted as the ma­jor in­spi­ra­tion for the mil­i­tant group, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s in­fra­struc­ture has vir­tu­ally been de­stroyed. For all prac­ti­cal pur­poses, Al-Qaeda may no longer be a threat to the U.S. and its western al­lies to launch its op­er­a­tions from Afghanistan and Pak­istan. The mil­i­tant-cum-ide­o­log­i­cal group seems to be shift­ing its power base from cen­tral and south Asia to the Ara­bian Penin­sula and north­ern Africa. There­fore, it is rea­son­able to sug­gest that Pres­i­dent Obama’s new strat­egy vis-à-vis the U.S.’ fight against ter­ror­ism may no longer in­clude AlQaeda as a part of the equa­tion, at least not in this re­gion. The U.S.’s readi­ness to ne­go­ti­ate with the Tal­iban and its support in the es­tab­lish­ment of the Tal­iban of­fice in Qatar val­i­dates this hy­poth­e­sis.

The threat of Tal­iban mil­i­tancy is no longer limited to Afghanistan. A dif­fer­ent ver­sion of ex­trem­ism with dif­fer­ent goals is threat­en­ing Pak­istan as well where Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa has par­tic­u­larly been the worst vic­tim of un­rest. For Pak­istan, the cost of hu­man suf­fer­ing has been huge. Many sol­diers and count­less in­no­cent peo­ple have lost their lives in the on­go­ing op­er­a­tion against mil­i­tants in the tribal ar­eas. Hun­dreds of thou­sands have been dis­placed from their homes and many have mi­grated across the Du­rand Line to neigh­bor­ing prov­inces in Afghanistan.

Any po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment of the Tal­iban is­sue in both Afghanistan and Pak­istan should be part of a re­gional

While Dr. Ab­dul­lah is bent on mil­i­tar­ily de­feat­ing the Tal­iban and other in­sur­gents along­side peace talks, Dr. Ghani is more in fa­vor of a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment.

po­lit­i­cal frame­work that paves the way for the coun­tries that have a di­rect or in­di­rect stake in the is­sue to reach a con­clu­sion of peace­ful co-ex­is­tence. It is note­wor­thy though that the en­tire re­gion is in tran­si­tion. A com­bi­na­tion of geopol­i­tics and eco­nomics will de­ter­mine the po­lit­i­cal fu­ture of the re­gion. The Tal­iban phe­nom­e­non should be looked at as a part of that re­gional po­lit­i­cal equa­tion and not as an iso­lated is­sue of a group of re­li­gious zealots who are bent upon es­tab­lish­ing Sharia in both Afghanistan and Pak­istan. De­spite the fact that the dy­nam­ics of Tal­iban mil­i­tancy in the two neigh­bor­ing coun­tries dif­fer, they share a lot on the ide­o­log­i­cal front.

One of the main chal­lenges for the new ad­min­is­tra­tion in Kabul will be to bring peace to the war-rav­aged coun­try. No de­vel­op­men­tal agenda can be im­ple­mented with­out hav­ing se­cu­rity and there can be no sus­tain­able se­cu­rity with­out long-last­ing peace. Peace-build­ing in Afghanistan can­not be overem­pha­sized and has been a common dream of all Afghans. A mat­ter of ut­most sig­nif­i­cance to the new leader in Kabul would be to find a way to open a chan­nel of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the Tal­iban and other in­sur­gent/mil­i­tant groups to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

Although all in­di­ca­tions sug­gest that the Tal­iban will fur­ther in­ten­sify their in­sur­gency as for­eign troops be­gin to with­draw from the coun­try, with the right kind of po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere, there is no rea­son the mil­i­tants can­not be in­te­grated into main­stream pol­i­tics. But any such ef­fort can­not be ac­com­plished with­out ac­tive fa­cil­i­ta­tion and co­op­er­a­tion from Pak­istan.

While Afghanistan is yet to come out suc­cess­fully from the elec­tion stale­mate, U.S. and UN in­ter­ven­tion and me­di­a­tion has paved the way for the two lead­ing can­di­dates, i.e. Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Ab­dul­lah, to form a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment in which both the win­ner and the loser are com­mit­ted to work­ing to­gether. Dr. Ghani was an­nounced win­ner in the pre­lim­i­nary re­sult but was chal­lenged by his ri­val Dr. Ab­dul­lah and even­tu­ally the two can­di­dates agreed on a com­plete au­dit of all votes. Dr. Ghani re­tained his majority even after the au­dit. If elected, Dr. Ghani has promised to in­te­grate both the Tal­iban and Gul­bud­din Hek­mat­yar’s Hezb-e-Is­lami into a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment as he in­ter­prets it. If Dr. Ghani suc­ceeds in bring­ing in both the Tal­iban and other mil­i­tant groups into the new gov­ern­ment, he will have made his­tory in peace­mak­ing.

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