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.
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.