Ravaging violence amidst flickers of hope ignited by Afghan-Taliban peace talks

Superpowers don’t lose wars, they lose interests. Well, that’s just an explanation cum excuse. The fact is, America has lost in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is easy to invade, difficult to conquer and impossible to rule by a foreign power. And so, has happened with the world’s powerful nation, the US. The western nation just wants to cut and run now.

In a few weeks’ time, the US will enter the 20th year of war in Afghanistan. When the US invaded Afghanistan after 9/11 nearly 3600 American troops and hundreds of thousands of civilians have died there. The Doha agreement signed between the US and the Taliban this February, provided a green signal for the American troops to be drawn down from 13000 to just 400 in September. This peace process has been brought about the Americans in particular because they’ve complete lost in Afghanistan and this deal is giving them a face-saving exit. Donald Trump seeks a diplomatic achievement ahead of US presidential elections by bringing his boys back home. US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo urged both sides to seize the opportunities at the historic talk that happened between the Afghan government and the Taliban this Saturday.

But after the complete US withdrawal from its longest war, Afghanistan will be left for Afghans to seek out, the entire negotiations have to be Afghan-led. In the past 18 months and particularly since February, Afghans are fighting the Taliban themselves because the US has largely stopped combat operation against the Taliban.

Image source: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

The withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is about point-scoring right before the US presidential elections. The world sees it as ‘the end of a war’, but for Afghanistan, its neighbouring states and most importantly for its people, the future prospects still look bleak. Deal or no deal, its apparent that conflict in Afghanistan is ending no soon. Abruptly ending the war like this, in no way ensures peace and stability and a prosperous future of Afghanistan people. This adventure or rather say, misadventure started almost 40 years ago, and the consequences of premature withdrawal have been drastic for the region in the past.

Now, in the capital of Qatar, the first-ever talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents have begun, midwifed by the US. The historic high-stake Intra afghan negotiations have begun on September 12, in Doha. And for the first time since it all began; representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government are holding direct talks to try to put an end to the 19-year conflict that began after the Taliban were ousted from power by American led NATO forces in 2001. This war began long before the Taliban even existed, and in fact, this war has proven that it can endure even when its alleged causes are destroyed, it was started against the Soviet Union, which no longer exists but the war is still continued. So, they’ll have to address some fundamental issues about the viability and stability of the Afghan state. Foreign engagements have to take different shapes. More investments, and development activities and opportunities will only flourish in a peaceful Afghanistan. It’s a breakthrough in the history of Afghanistan. Both the sides have lately realised that thy people have suffered a great deal and they want to find a solution through negotiations. This is considered as the first tentative step towards peace.

But the peace process is bound to face turbulence. It’s going to be complicated to maintain domestic and regional consensus for the peace to not diminish. The gains of the past 18 years to make Afghanistan the Islamic Republic have to be secured, though much has not been achieved due to inherent hindrances, but the process must go on. One complication will be the socialisation of this process. This cannot be the settlement of a few, it has to be socialised at the grass-root level. Because the grassroots have paid the cost of war and if they do not involve them constantly, it is destined to become an elite deal and will collapse at any moment. All these stages through the talks should lead to a permanent peace rather than a permanent ceasefire because ceasefire is between two warring factions. In order to bring together all the factions of Afghan society together, it should be termed as the quest to a ‘permanent peace’.

No military solution can work out in Afghanistan. Solutions cannot be found on the battlefield or can’t be imposed from the outside. Over 40 years of war have ravaged the entire country. Afghanistan today is one of the poorest countries of the world. The US-backed negotiations come six months later than planned owing to bitter disagreements over controversial high-risk prisoner swap agreement. The major obstacle as the Taliban said, was the demand for the release of 400 high-risk detainees who were drug dealers, planners of suicide bombers, kidnappers, killers. The negotiations have been stalled for months amid disagreement over highly controversial and risky prisoners swap and ongoing violence in the country. As a precondition for negotiations, the Taliban demanded the release of 5,000 similar detainees. Taliban’s political leader reiterates his group’s demand for Afghanistan to adopt an Islamic system as peace talks began in a bid to end the two decades of war.

Image source: Khama Press

Taliban is still trying to use violence, to get more concessions, they will try to create more choke points, and they’ll try to do more extortions, to increase their revenue and each action they do will complicate the process further. Making peace with the Taliban is neither a surrender of the Taliban nor asking the Taliban to surrender, it is bringing two ways of life under one national ceiling. It has to be a coexistence. But the Taliban is a distortional expression of Islam, they are a deviation in the body of Islam and the Afghan culture. They have to reconcile their different visions. Both the parties have a different world view and different visions for Afghanistan. There have to be reconciliations even in areas irreconcilable, and thus, difficulties can’t be underestimated. Finding compromise will be a demanding task, the conditions of the ceasefire, changes to the constitution, and the details of powers sharing deal if at all will be there, must be clearly laid out. Hopes are high that a country seemingly mired in a constant conflict might see an end this time but the streets of Kabul are yet clouded with cautious optimism.

It’s apparent that the main demands of the Taliban have been met, first and the very consistent being the withdrawal of the troops. But since the agreement have been signed-in February, the attacks have gone up. It has been one of the bloodiest years since the twenty years of conflict and the Taliban is incessantly making advances. More than 400 attacks have occurred since the deal between the US and the Taliban have been signed-in February this year and thousands of people have lost their lives in the fights between Taliban insurgents and the Afghan government. The violence is still high on the ground.

Hence, it seems that in Doha agreement, there is an inbuilt tolerance for violence against Afghans because there was no commitment on the part of the Taliban to not attack the Afghan forces and civilians. The commitment was only towards the US and NATO. And one can see the results are playing out. 

Hence, unless the regional value chains and other partners try to ensure that the sanctuaries and a safe heaven to these insurgents are denied, the Taliban will have enough incentive to reinvigorate. The Taliban will have to explain it to the Afghan people why are they now fighting with the Afghans even after one of their major demands i.e. the departure of US troops have been met. They’ve long justified Jihad against foreign troops but as now they are leaving, so the Taliban must stop.

Image source: Abdullah Abdullah/Twitter

Last week’s relatively warm word exchange was a good sign for two sides who’ve been fighting to determine Afghanistan’s future for two decades. But violent attacks continue in Afghanistan even as talks enter a new phase. Although hopes have been shown by both sides but a trust deficit and wide-ranging disagreements between the two sides still exists. This ongoing unacceptable violence have the potential to put the entire peace process in jeopardy. They are creating or rather intensifying the atmosphere of mistrust and risks derailing the peace process. Hence it is utterly important that the issue of a significant reduction in violence should top the agenda of peace talks.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Aarti Bansal

Aarti Bansal is a Former Journalism Intern at The Kootneeti

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