Disclaimer: This article was first published elsewhere and is republished here with recommendation and full permission of the author.
By Mushtaq Rahim
The Afghan Government and International community has finally realized that the times of “Wining the Battles” have long passed. Recognition of the fact that every conflict has an end in talks and negotiation only dawned on them after nearly a decade long arm struggle against a handful Taliban throughout the country, particularly in the south. The revelation of need for talks only happened after heinous battles across the country leaving scores of civilians affected in collateral damage besides casualties to the conflict actors i.e. Taliban, International Community backed government and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF).
Though late, pursuing the solution in reconciliation and peacemaking process is a commendable initiative. In line with “better late than never” the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) reveals to be a step forward in the right direction. Particularly, backing offered by the International Community and “go ahead” offered by the Afghans adds credibility to the reconciliation and peacemaking efforts.
Nevertheless, to achieve a positive result from an effort has to be aligned to a couple of basic principles. Firstly, it has to be motivated by sincerity of purpose and right intention. Secondly, the process has to be commenced on a right footing and technically correct basis. Unfortunately, the Afghan peace process lacks both of the principles and as such a hope of an affirmative outcome starts diminishing.
The peace process has been adopted as a way out of the Afghan conflict by the international community only at the verge of their draw down from Afghanistan. Otherwise, Afghans in general have been suggesting throughout the course of last decade that reconciliation can be a beginning of a lasting peace in Afghanistan. Even Afghan Government took some initiatives during mid-2000s by instigating its own version of peace and reconciliation program under the leadership of former president and ex-chairman of senate Sebgahtullah Mujadidi. It is though mentionable that it proved a milking cow and another political bribe for the elderly professor. However, the international community continued to muscle its way arrogantly. In other words, the intention is not to help Afghanistan achieve lasting peace but rather is a quest for easy passage out of Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the Government and predominantly president Karzai is using the peace process for continued degradation of his political opposition blooming from north of the country. The senior mediators assigned to the program are almost all those individuals that president want to remain busy in something and as such do not oppose the government. Lack of sincere intention, however, is also lacking in Taliban camp as well and justifiably so as they know that instead of taking a piece of cake, why not vie for the whole chunk after the withdrawal of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2014.
Lack of pious intention and sincerity is coupled with technical incompetency of the program which paves the way for a catastrophic end of the program. First and foremost, the program is launched with a one way approach i.e. seeking Taliban to join the peace process. It is mainly focused on reaching out to Taliban for reconciliation and joining the national mainstream. Unfortunately, Taliban have replied back more than once negatively by slaying the peace interlocutors.
While Taliban responses have been adverse, the peace negotiators brought together under the umbrella of High Peace Council (HPC) has also been comprised of a group of people detested among Taliban ranks. Most of them are the people they have been fighting during their regime. Similarly, people at the provincial level assigned for reaching out to the opposition groups are mainly the personalities least liked by even their own communities.
Also, the peace negotiators engaged in peace negotiation and mediation are comprised of untrained former local commanders and community elders with limited are no knowledge of peace negotiation, outreach and reconciliation. Considering that this is an expert area, non-technical people can only mess it up on the ground and further compound the situation.
Afghan conflict has turned into a regional issue during the course of last three decades and as such has a large number of stakeholders engaged, particularly the eastern neighbor Pakistan. Therefore, unless the interest of the regional actors is either neutralized or addressed, a durable solution can remain only a desire. The program, however, fails to come up with a clear strategy on tackling the shadow parties of the Afghan conflict. The fact that there is lack of a clear policy is evident in the fact that United States of America (USA), a key party in the Afghan conflict, continues to provide nearly a billion US dollar every year to Pakistan in aid. The United Kingdom, another of the big wigs, is also stretching its trade and partnership with Pakistan to expanded limits. Afghan Government in the meantime at one time calls them a direct party standing behind Taliban and at another boasts of standing beside Pakistan if attacked by any foreign force.
The analysis of the program can produce numerous other flaws in the program which might not be warranted here and can be a subject matter of a comprehensive evaluation and review of the whole peace process. Nevertheless, identification of some of the key issues is a heads-up to all engaged. A lot of people both in Afghanistan and overseas among the international community are tying their hopes to the current peace process. Undoubtedly, this is seen as a final hope, no matter how thin it is. The financial resources and political support of international community may never be as such like the one right now. Similarly, the international community can also achieve its objective of dismissing any possibility of future security threats from inside Afghanistan by contributing to long lasting peace in the country.
Therefore, failure of the current peace process cannot be an option for any of the stakeholders. Hence, lack of trust, selfishness and political juggling has to be replaced by sincere effort focused on a lasting peace for Afghanistan. The international community and Afghan government have to reconcile first before they reach out to Taliban and start reading from the same strategy paper. They have to commit to a longer term broad based peacebuilding effort that can help the country move out of chaos to stability. There is also a significant need for development of a common regional strategy where the neighbors are dealt with on plain ground and straight forward words. There is need for return to the 2001 strategy where USA asked rest of the word that they cannot be neutral and have to choose a side in combating terrorism. They once again have to ask Pakistan to choose either side.
Technically too, there has to be a significant upheaval of the overall peace process. The process has to be taken as a “process” and not a program. Reconciliation, reintegration and peacebuilding is a process requiring a lot of concerted effort on a longer term basis. Therefore, there has to be patience cultivated among all involved parties and routes of the program are to be expanded. The roots of insurgency and opposition have to be impacted through penetration from different facets. The outreach needs to be doubled with public awareness raising and seeking partnership of messes for peace process. Government has to deliver justice, security and public services to earn the public backing.
No doubt that the international community is under immense pressure in their capitals and political future of many leaders is hinging on exit from Afghanistan, there is need for sustained patience and support to their backing of Afghanistan. However, hassled exit might leave the gains of last ten years in tatters. Billions of dollars contributed to state building may go down the drain and all may be back to square one. The loss of hundreds foreign soldiers might leave nothing for their families to feel proud off. The international leaders have to make their public understand these realities. They have to take the right way out instead of an easy one. There is an Afghan saying that don’t leave it at tail while you have skinned rest of a butchered cow, meaning don’t leave the job unfinished. Else, we all know that half done is not done.