A long-term peace can only be achieved through a national, regional and international consensus.
On 29 February, an agreement was signed between the United States of America and the Taliban in Doha, clearing the way for a National Peace Dialogue (NPD) between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, which eventually was officially launched on September 12 in Qatar.
Make no mistake the US-Taliban agreement is not a peace deal. It only cleared the way for the NPD. If the latter is a success then a peace settlement might be achieved.
In the past decade, when reconciliation emerged as the endgame in Afghanistan, the Taliban constantly refused direct negotiations with the government of Afghanistan. Instead, they always insisted on talking to the Americans first.
Eventually, the US gave in and directly negotiated with the Taliban. The New York Times hailed the US veteran diplomat, Mr Zalmay Khalilzad for making the late February agreement possible, but he also has fierce critics as well.
The deal agreed to the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the government of Afghanistan, where the latter was absent in talks, in exchange for up to 1,000 Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) held by the Taliban – before the start of NPD.
In addition, picking a 21-member negotiating delegation became a lengthy process, and both issues became politicised.
A real bone of contention though is that the signing of the US-Taliban deal stopped the targeting of foreign troops in Afghanistan by the Taliban, yet there has been an increase in attacks by them on ANSF, further revealing weaknesses of the agreement, which largely justifies the critics of the deal brokered by Khalilzad.
On 17 May, Abdullah and Ghani approved a compromise deal to break an electoral dispute, where Ghani would remain president and Abdullah would be able to appoint half of the cabinet ministers and provincial governors and will head the nascent peace process through the High Council of National Reconciliation (HCNR).
The HCNR will establish a leadership council, made up of major leaders of the political parties, independent political figures and heads of the two chambers of parliament, and also a representative assembly.
The State Ministry for Peace will serve as the secretariat of the HCNR. This structure, per the political agreement, not only will guide the peace delegation in their negotiations with the Taliban, but also is tasked to ensure an internal as well as a regional consensus through proactive diplomacy on Afghanistan’s peace.
The peace process lacked inclusiveness and the HCNR offers a great opportunity to transform the current peace process into a more inclusive one where Afghanistan’s diverse ethnic communities, civil society and political parties are represented.
Reconciliation will fail if all of the parties that were involved in the decades-long conflict are not included and their voices not heard.
Another challenge that exists with the current peace process is the suspicion that political parties and leaders, who have fought against the Taliban in the 1990s, have in relation to the will and intention of the Taliban to ultimately end the war, without looking for total domination and the subjugation of others.
Previous experiences, in the past 26 years, have shown that the Taliban were not resolved to end the war through negotiations and they used talks merely as a ruse to buy time for their next offensive.
The late Ahmad Shah Massoud who led the resistance against the Taliban visited them without any bodyguards to show his goodwill and to reach a peace settlement with them in 1994.
During his speech at the opening of the NDP, Chairman of HCRN, Dr Abdullah alluded to this fact.
Despite the above challenges, the NPD offers a genuine opportunity for Afghanistan and the region to reach an accommodation. Afghanistan has experienced an unending war for the past four decades and the warring parties have missed many opportunities of bringing peace and reconciling their differences. Moreover, competition over influence and power by many neighbouring countries have been another obstacle to address the pending issues that have caused war and conflict in Afghanistan.
The security concerns that many neighbouring countries have, should be addressed and a feasible solution should be reached where both parties’ interests are taken into consideration. The NPD can start a new chapter of not only solving Afghanistan’s political issues but also can be seen as an opportunity for regional integration and reconciliation.
As hinted above, peace in Afghanistan requires both regional, international and national consensus.
At the same time it is key to ensure all factions of the country see themselves represented in the peace delegation, the Leadership Council of the HCNR and in its assembly, which would lead the negotiating and technical teams as well as lead the reintegration of former combatants and post-political settlement development. The leadership council of the HCNR should be the only decision-making body and should supervise the peace talks and post-political settlement.
The formation of the HCNR tasked with the final decision-making and deliberations on peace as well as to conduct needed diplomacy and addressing the long-term effects of war is, therefore, a welcome development.
Now that the long-awaited talks have begun, the HCNR can expand the scope of peace talks by calling it the National Peace Dialogue and also invite heads of regional states to play a more active role in it to ensure its success.
Without an inclusive structure, this opportunity will be squandered like the Geneva Accord of 1988, where internal dynamics of peace and reconciliation and regional dynamics were near-dismissed, and as a result, the state disintegrated and chaos prevailed. History can repeat itself if this process is to fail. It can take Afghanistan towards another level of fragmentation and internal warfare, with larger regional ramifications. For this reason, all parties, regional and international stakeholders have to responsibly put an effort to end the war.
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