10 September 2019

The Afghanistan peace process – The light at the end of the tunnel is flickering

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

The chances to establish peace in Afghanistan are at their best historical moment after 2001. But peace must be understood by its actual sense, not by the wish of international forces to withdraw as soon as possible after signing a document. To attain this objective, three aspects must be considered: • an agreement does not represent peace itself; • the price of an agreement which does not satisfy all the parts currently in negotiations could possibly be higher than the actual spending; • we must be realistic and take “the worst case scenario” into consideration, which would see peace failing. Negotiations with the Taliban, carried out by Trump Administration representative Zalmay Khalilzad, seem to have progressed on the issue of the withdrawal of foreign troops. Khalilzad admitted that, while the US can negotiate withdrawal, only the Afghan can decide how to live peacefully together.

Image source: Mediafax

Intra-Afghan negotiations. Steps forward… small and slow

On July 7 and 8, a large delegation of representatives of the Afghan society met with representatives of the Taliban. The talks in the Qatari capital were co-sponsored by Qatar and Germany.

The Afghan delegation had 50 members and included civil society activists, journalists, representatives of Afghan political parties and officials from the administration of President Ashraf Ghani. Of the 50, a big part of the attendees were women, as part of a request from the international community, but also from a part of the Afghan society. It must be mentioned that all the 50 individuals who took part in the dialogue were not representing the government institutions and the organizations they were members of. In this way, the Taliban could meet with Afghan government officials without having an official contact with the Afghan government, which the militant group refuses for a long time to do.

A first positive step of the peace process was holding this meeting. Until now, all efforts to hold a meeting with a group which would largely represent Afghan society in their talks with the Taliban failed due to political disputes. One example in this regard is an attempt in April 2019, which failed because of intra-Afghan disagreements on the composition and size of the delegation. Such failures led to anxiety within the Afghan society and even the apparition of some conspiratorial rumors regarding the peace process.

The second positive step brought by this meeting is the possibility offered for both sides to directly raise concerns on issues such as women’s rights, the electoral system and the role of Islam in governing Afghanistan.

A third positive step was also materialized by the signing, at the end of the meeting, of a common statement, which includes a series of principles on common subjects of interest.

It is possible that these gains could have been achieved by the unity proven by representatives of the Afghan society on the requests made to the Taliban. This was highlighted by Khalid Noor, an influent activist from the Balkh province, who said: “We were all united in the requests made to the Taliban and which can be summarized in maintaining the current governing system – the republic”.

Stagnation and backward steps

One of the questions for the Taliban representatives regarded the political system. Doha was the first time this question was asked directly to the Taliban representatives. Currently, Afghanistan (the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) is a constitutional republic, in which the government is elected democratically. The Taliban consider that Afghanistan must be governed within the monarchic system of an emirate, which should be similar with the structure of political systems in the Gulf, such as those of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The talks on this matter between the Afghan delegation and the Taliban did not advance, as the Taliban refused to directly address the question and continuously attempted to avoid presenting a stance. Actually, this dodge left the Afghan people with more questions than answers regarding the Taliban’s wishes to integrate into a democratic government system.

Another question addressed to the Taliban referred to the freedom of the press and the rights of journalists. This is especially important due to the fact that the Taliban issued an order calling for attacks against important mass-media in Afghanistan. As with the subject of the political system, the representatives of the Taliban tried to minimize the subject and claim that their message calling for attacks against the Afghan mass-media was wrongly understood.

These subjects, as many others, were brought into discussion during the conference. Although a declaration of principles was signed, which is a positive step, its very vague content raises new questions over the success of this approach. In the document, the Taliban claim that they will stop targeting civilians in their attacks. The reality on the ground shows that this promise has very small chances of being accomplished, as the Taliban continue to attack schools and execute non-discriminatory attacks against those who oppose them. Other aspects, such as the rights of women, were agreed within the document, but the phrase “in accordance with Islamic law” generates concern, because it could be used to impose draconic restrictions on the rights of women, such as those in Saudi Arabia.

And the reality on the ground

During the meeting in the Qatari capital, the Taliban stated that they will seek to reduce civilian violence and victims, but recent non-discriminatory attacks caused numerous victims among civilians, including children. At a first sight, the commitment to reduce the civilian victims seems like a great achievement, but the Taliban have not transposed what was convened into practice. This problem generated a state of distrust and disappointment within the Afghan society.

As the strategy of the Taliban also includes attacking civilians, alongside security forces, it is clear that difference between statements made at the peace table and actions on the field suggests the existence of a total disagreement between the Taliban’s political bureau and military commanders. As a consequence, the Taliban commanders’ ground objectives will continue to dominate instructions received from their political leaders, which will continue to perpetuate violence and bloodshed among the Afghan population.

Stage conclusions from a negotiation process which has barely started

The intra-Afghan dialogue which took place in Qatar is, without a doubt, a step in the right direction, but is only the beginning of a long and combative process on both sides. At the same time, the meeting in Doha did not yield a stable and precise agreement.

The intra-Afghan dialogue was very inclusive and representative for the Afghan society. Despite all this, it is just a dialogue, and the trust test will be the formal negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Currently, all the sides included in the negotiations must make concessions. Similarly, the government must realize the fact that a durable peace agreement cannot be negotiated without taking into account the opinions of the Afghan opposition, youth and women.

The intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha was, without doubt, a positive effort within the peace process started in the attempt to end the war in Afghanistan, which has been taking place for decades. Despite all this, it will take more time and more effort before formal negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government will start. Furthermore, it is imperatively necessary to continue some intermediate steps in order to reach a stable and durable peace.

Translated by Ionut Preda