Deciding Afghanistan’s fate

September 08, 2019

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DEADLY bombings against the backdrop of peace talks paint an uneasy picture for the future of Afghanistan, on the brink of witnessing a dramatic withdrawal of US troops even as the spectre of violence looms.

On Thursday, 10 people were killed — including two Nato troops — when a powerful car bomb exploded in a heavily fortified zone in Kabul, just days after Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy and America’s chief negotiator in the peace talks, concluded the ninth round of meetings with the Taliban leadership in Qatar and announced the two sides had reached an agreement which only awaited the Trump administration’s approval.

Following the bombing, Khalilzad returned to Qatar for unscheduled talks with the Taliban that reportedly went on well past midnight. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been left out of these high-powered discussions in Qatar on the insistence of the Taliban, and appears to be deeply unhappy with some aspects of the impending peace agreement.

From the press conference that followed the trilateral dialogue held in Islamabad yesterday, with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi hosting his Chinese and Afghan counterparts, it was clear the focus of the talks had been on ensuring that the battle-scarred country does not once again descend into internecine warfare.

At this critical juncture, all stakeholders need to exercise prudence and foresight. As the Chinese foreign minister stated during the press conference, what transpires now must take place in an orderly and responsible manner. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly refused to sign the deal, indicating that Washington’s conscience may be troubled. Anxiety about the post-accord situation is clearly at an all-time high. The Taliban are banking on violence to strengthen their bargaining power and get the most out of the deal as the now decentralised leadership gears up to battle the militant Islamic State group. At the same time, the US is in a hurry to get out of Afghanistan — a key promise of President Trump during the 2016 presidential election. With another election around the corner, it appears that Mr Trump is keen to bill Afghanistan as a victory and cross it off his to-do list. 

While the people with power deliberate, the people of Afghanistan watch with bated breath, anxious and fearful about what the transition will bring. They hope for peace and a viable path to power-sharing, that will allow them to have a say in who governs them. As a group of nine former ambassadors to Afghanistan have poignantly said in an open letter critical of the US approach to negotiating the troop withdrawal, “[The US] must not yank so much support from our Afghan friends that they are unable to protect themselves”.

A rushed decision on the US withdrawal will have regional and global consequences and spawn more violence and insecurity for a people who have suffered for decades.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2019