WHILE the peace deal signed at the end of last month between the US and the Afghan Taliban provided some hope that the long and brutal war in Afghanistan may be coming to a close, events since then have proved that this may be another false dawn. Violent exchanges have occurred between the Taliban and the US after a brief pause, while Kabul witnessed a major terrorist attack last week when the local affiliate of the militant Islamic State group attacked a condolence ceremony for a Hazara leader. However, perhaps the biggest impediment to peace at this time is the power struggle playing out in the Afghan capital between President Ashraf Ghani and his main political rival Abdullah Abdullah, who served as the country’s chief executive in the last dispensation. Over the decades, Kabul has witnessed many strange and surreal events, but the fact that two presidential inaugurations occurred in the city on Monday was truly farcical. Ashraf Ghani was sworn in at the presidential palace while in another section of the complex Mr Abdullah ‘inaugurated’ himself as the leader of Afghanistan. Moreover, the ceremony was attacked by rockets, reportedly fired by IS.
Sadly, it appears as if history is repeating itself in Afghanistan. Soon after the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992, the country saw a vicious power struggle within the Mujahideen as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar refused to support the dispensation led by Burhanuddin Rabbani. Soon enough, the warlords were going at each other with almost the same zeal as they attacked the Soviets with. This chaotic interlude gave way to the rise of the Taliban, who swept through Kabul in 1996 to establish their ‘emirate’. Unfortunately, it appears that the Afghan power brokers have learnt nothing. While foreign forces — the Soviets, the US — played a major part in destabilising Afghanistan, local leaders, from the Mujahideen to the political bosses of today, cannot be absolved of blame. In fact, it is their inherent disunity that is standing in the way of a durable peace. On Tuesday, American troops reportedly started their withdrawal from Afghanistan. If the power struggle in Kabul worsens, the peace deal can safely be consigned to history, as the Taliban are unlikely to negotiate with the Kabul government. In fact, they may even ask: who do we talk to? It is time for the Afghan political class to show vision and sagacity, or be prepared for more chaos and lawlessness.
Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2020