SLOWLY, and indeed very carefully, the Afghan peace process seems to be moving forward, though incidents of violence also continue to occur in the country. There are multiple global actors — including this country — urging the Afghan Taliban to make peace with the rulers in Kabul, and while the militia continues to posture and indulge in violence, there are also signs that there is some sort of flexibility within Taliban ranks where dialogue is concerned. A few days ago, in Doha, members of the militia met Afghan politicians and civil society activists, with the latter two appearing in a ‘personal’ capacity, and discussed numerous issues. While the Taliban maintain their rigid stance of not talking to the Ashraf Ghani-led government, there have been some positive outcomes of the latest conclave in Doha. Most notably, all participants agreed to bring down civilian casualties in the country to “zero” and to ensure the security of schools, hospitals and markets. Considering the fact that Afghanistan continues to suffer from violent attacks, and civilians continue to get caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the government, the pledge to end bloodshed targeting non-combatants needs to be welcomed.
Elsewhere on the Afghan front, the US, Russia and China have recognised this country’s role in facilitating the Afghan peace process. In a statement issued by the US State Department, it was said that “Pakistan can play an important role in facilitating peace in Afghanistan”. Indeed, considering the long border this country shares with Afghanistan, and the fact that instability in the latter country directly affects Pakistan, Islamabad has a key role in helping bring this protracted conflict to an end. Moreover, while the US, China and Russia, along with other regional states, are playing important roles in trying to end the conflict, Afghanistan’s other neighbours — especially Iran, Uzbekistan and the Central Asian states — must also be involved in the peace process. Due to geographical and ethnolinguistic links with the parties within Afghanistan, it is essential that these neighbours are on board, as just like Pakistan they too are affected by Afghan instability. Though this may be anathema to the US, particularly when it comes to involving Iran, Tehran cannot be ignored in the effort to iron out an Afghan peace deal.
However, it should be reiterated that despite the best intentions of all of Afghanistan’s neighbours and world powers, the peace process must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. It is important that the Taliban shed their rigidity and talk directly to Kabul to ensure a workable peace. But as a presidential election is due in Afghanistan in September, the militia may be waiting to see where the chips fall before declaring their strategy. The next few months will be crucial for Afghanistan, and it is hoped a lasting peace is reached to help this battered land get back on its feet.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2019