PERHAPS fuelled by a feeling of combat fatigue and war weariness on all sides, there has been a flurry of activity recently to bring the long-running Afghan conflict to a negotiated end. America’s special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was in Pakistan and met the country’s senior leadership, including the prime minister and the army chief, in order to speed up the peace process and help bring the Afghan Taliban to the table. However, a Taliban spokesman quickly rejected the impression that members of the militia had met the Americans in Islamabad. While one or two visits and positive statements may not break the ice, these efforts can surely build the groundwork for dialogue and help bring this bloody conflict to a peaceful close. But while Pakistan, regional states and international powers can help provide a conducive atmosphere for talks, the peace process itself must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.
After over four decades of war, the Afghan people need to be given a fair chance to rebuild their shattered country, free from external meddling and internal strife. This can only happen if there is a genuine desire for peace amongst all Afghan stakeholders; while the US-backed government in Kabul has made repeated offers of peace, the Taliban have adopted a hard-line position, although even they have sent signals that they are ready to talk to the Americans, if not the Ashraf Ghani government. The Taliban should take advantage of the situation and talk to the Americans, facilitated by Pakistan and regional states; they must also shed their rigidity and talk to Kabul. Moreover, the Taliban need to put an end to violent attacks within Afghanistan; though they may be targeting the Afghan government, far too many innocent civilians have died in the attacks. Regional states need to put aside their rivalries and help all Afghan factions negotiate a settlement; decades-old cloak-and-dagger games played out in Afghanistan between world and regional powers, along with the internecine power struggles between Afghan factions, have been major obstacles in the evolution of Afghanistan as a modern state. The Taliban and all other Afghan and foreign players should realise that if the conflict continues, the militant Islamic State group will gain further ground in Afghanistan’s ungoverned spaces and pose a new challenge to all. It is hoped peace efforts will bear fruit and can soon pave the way for a tranquil, democratic Afghanistan.
Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2019