US-Taliban deal

20 Jan 2020

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THERE appears to be some movement in the on-again, off-again Afghan peace process, as the Americans are currently talking to the Afghan Taliban in Doha; meanwhile, there are reports that the insurgents have agreed to reduce the level of hostilities against the US forces. In fact, a longer-lasting peace deal may also be in the works, ready to be signed by the end of this month. As there have been several false dawns on this front in the past, the news should be greeted with guarded optimism since both sides — the Taliban and the Trump administration — are known to be impulsive and unpredictable. For example, the Afghan militia have in the past stepped up attacks even as they sued for peace, while President Donald Trump ripped up a deal last year as preparations were under way to invite the Taliban to the US to sign it. However, such ups and downs are to be expected, and the tortured Afghan saga, which has been continuing for decades, cannot be untangled in days or weeks.

The days ahead will show if the Taliban make good on their promise to reduce acts of violence, and whether or not the Americans decide to go ahead and ink a more permanent peace deal. However, it should be noted that leaving out the Kabul government from any permanent Afghan settlement is not a good idea. The Taliban have said they may initiate an intra-Afghan dialogue which could include the Ashraf Ghani-led dispensation after a ceasefire has been signed with the Americans. This appears to be a softening in the militia’s tone, as previously the Taliban have used uncharitable terms for the Kabul government, describing the setup as puppets of the Americans. The fact is that all sides in this brutal conflict — the Taliban, the Kabul government, other Afghan factions, the Americans and their foreign cohorts — are visibly fatigued after decades of war. And most importantly, the Afghan people have witnessed enough death and destruction as global powers and their own compatriots have fought bloody battles in their forsaken land, taking a heavy toll on the country and its population. There seems to be a feeling on all sides that enough is enough. Meanwhile, even more vicious actors, such as the local chapter of the militant Islamic State group, are waiting in the wings to take advantage of the chaos and establish themselves in Afghanistan’s ungoverned spaces.

For peace to succeed, all Afghan factions, as well as the government and foreign forces, must pledge to end the hostilities. If such confidence-building measures succeed, a grand Afghan reconciliation process should be initiated, so that all legitimate political players can come together and forge a peaceful path for their country. All of Afghanistan’s neighbours, as well as world powers, must support such a process as insecurity within the country will spell insecurity in the whole region.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2020