Afghan Peace: a Dilemma?


Will Afghanistan ever be fortunate enough to come out of the vicious circle of violence and bloodshed by extricating itself from the cunningly woven complex web of foreign interference? The answer to this question is not an easy one given the number of involved actors, and their divergent interests in the region, Afghanistan’s weak state institutions in the aftermath of the destruction it underwent in the 1990s.
In the name of the Afghan peace talks which are spearheaded by foreign powers that have brought Taliban to the centre stage, once again the latter is the main stakeholder in Afghanistan. So far the Taliban is not ready to hold talks with the elected Unity Government of Afghanistan, dubbing it as a puppet of the foreign occupying forces, a term mostly used by the Taliban for the US and its forces.
Up till now, talks were between the Taliban, US, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan with the exclusion of Iran and the Afghan government which represents the state and the people of Afghanistan. The Afghan representatives were present in the UAE but were not directly a part of the talks which were given the name of ‘proximity talks’. The Taliban refused to hold the next round of talks in Saudi Arabia mainly to avoid meeting with the representatives of the Afghan government and therefore demanded to shift the venue to Qatar. Simultaneously, the Taliban also held talks with Iran which was a clear indication that the Taliban were either no longer a monolith proxy entity or had multiple patrons who had divergent interests in the theatre of Afghanistan.
It is a glaring example of contradictions and selfishness of the intervening powers which place Taliban according to their needs. After running over Afghanistan through brute force with outside support, the Taliban were ruling Afghanistan in a ruthless medieval style. Recognised formally only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the so called civilised world treated it as a pariah entity.
Subsequently, the Taliban were accused of harbouring international terrorist groups, turning Afghanistan into a breeding ground and a training centre for international terrorism. The aftermath of 9/11 provided a de jure justification for the US to invade Afghanistan and topple the Taliban regime. If the Taliban do not consider the present Afghan government as a de jure representative of the Afghan people and is not willing to negotiate with them, would it not leave a mark of interrogation on the Bonn conference process which gave birth to the interim government, constitution and successive elections to establish a democratic process? Can the US and other powers afford to go back to the pre Bonn era?
On December 22, 2015, the UN Security Council Resolution 2255 “decided to freeze assets, ban travel and prevent supply or transfer of arms for the Taliban and individuals associated with the Taliban who constituted a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan.” The Haqqani Network might be a different nomenclature but not substantially than the Taliban or its extension, was designated as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2012. Last year, the Trump administration designated six individuals as global terrorists on grounds of supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. But the US as well as the UN stopped short of declaring the Afghan Taliban as a terrorist group. The decision was mostly based on political grounds and not on criterion.
The argument for not placing the Afghan Taliban on the list of designated terrorist groups is that the Taliban control a large swath of territory and therefore are an insurgent group. If this is the criterion then why were the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) declared a terrorist organisation by the State Department in 1997? At that time the LTTE was controlling a large swath of northern Sri Lanka with Jaffna and Trincomalee as it bases while also commanding a sizeable support of the population in the North. Moreover, the LTTE was mostly targeting government installations and security forces not schools, hospitals, playgrounds and places of worship like the Taliban. The LTTE was finally defeated by the Sri Lankan forces after foreign intervention stopped and they were no longer receiving external support.
In contrast, the Taliban rule from 1996 to October 2001, and their control on certain areas from 2006 after regrouping outside Afghanistan was never accepted by the Afghans who merely tolerated them under duress with no option. The Afghan celebrated the fall of the Taliban’s brutal regime as people thronged to cinemas and formed long queues in front of barber shops to shave off the beards imposed on them by the Taliban. In contrast, the Sri Lankan diaspora mostly hailing from the North protested at Trafalgar Square, London against the brutal murder of Prabhakaran, the LTTE’s supremo.
Some intentionally while others gullibly attribute the phenomena of the Taliban to Afghanistan’s internal ethnic power dynamics and social fault lines. Though, the Taliban, mostly hailing from the South and eastern Afghanistan, are Pashtun in majority they are not representative of the Pashtun nationalism.
The origin of the Taliban from the Pashtun dominated region is not on account of ethnic linguistic factors or an imbalanced share in power but is the outcome of geography and geo-physical location. If the South and Eastern Afghanistan contiguous to the Durand Line was populated by the Tajiks, Uzbeks or Hazaras, the majority of the Taliban would be from that ethnicity.
Today the majority of the Afghans consider that the Taliban regime was imposed on them by the outsiders and both the Taliban and the erstwhile Mujahideen are foreign proxies. After the withdrawal of the Soviet forces the deliberately divided Mujahideen, turned into warlords; were used to make Afghanistan ungovernable by destroying its state and its institutions – and then were reunited to control it through the new proxy group in the form of the Taliban. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or any other so called Mujahid leader should speak the truth and reveal under whose pressure they did not accept the formula of a broad based government after the Soviet with drawal.Taliban should not repeat that historical mistake and avoid to meet the fate of the erstwhile Mujahideen leaders!
However, one does not know whether Zalmay Khalilzad knew in advance about Trump’s sudden announcement of the troops withdrawal or did it come as a shock from out of the blue. If it was a surprise for Khalilzad he must be facing a dilemma for the second time during his assignment in Afghanistan. When Khalilzad was the US ambassador to Afghanistan, it was a crucial time to consolidate peace in Afghanistan by working with Karzai in nation building and tame the warlords, the Bush administration attacked Iraq and transferred him to take charge there as ambassador. That decision of Bush took its toll on Afghanistan by diverting attention and resources to Iraq that enabled Taliban to regroup. Is Trump’s announcement of withdrawal in the middle of talks calculated or just a whimsical act? Is he giving a last chance to the Taliban and its handlers to behave? Should it be assumed that Afghanistan is being reshaped for another round of proxy war?