AS the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul try and reach a modus vivendi in Doha, it is essential that the level of violence is brought down to allow the peace process to succeed. This point was stressed by Pakistan’s civil and military leadership on Tuesday when prominent Afghan Hazara leader Ustad Karim Khalili called on both the prime minister and army chief during his visit to Islamabad. The comments are particularly important considering the history of bad blood between Afghanistan’s Hazara community and the Taliban. The latter were responsible for the 1998 massacre of hundreds, possibly thousands, of mostly Hazara victims in Mazar-i-Sharif; it is unlikely that memories of that atrocity have faded. However, if Afghanistan is to prosper, it must look forward while acknowledging its painful past. That is why the talks in Doha are so crucial. Afghan factions can talk to foreign forces all they want, but the fact remains that peace in that country is unlikely unless the Afghans talk to each other in a spirit of reconciliation and accommodation — all the more reason why violence from all sides, particularly the Taliban, needs to stop if the talks are to succeed.

Ever since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — and even before that — the country has been in a constant state of conflict. The communist, Mujahideen and Taliban eras were all marked by conflict and upheaval, retarding Afghanistan’s growth and forcing millions of Afghans to flee their homeland. Now, at a time when foreign forces are poised to leave, Afghan stakeholders have two choices before them: they can take advantage of the situation and work out a plan to share power and help establish a democratic system in which the interests of all ethnicities and sects, as well as women and minorities, are protected, or they can continue to battle it out and prolong the endless nightmare of the Afghan people. As for the Kabul elite, they need to put on a united front and discard internal factional divisions for the sake of harmony. For their part, the Taliban must join the political process. If their violent actions continue, it is highly unlikely that an intra-Afghan peace process can succeed. And with virulent militant actors such as the self-styled Islamic State group waiting in the wings to pounce, all Afghan forces must realise the importance of a negotiated settlement as soon as possible.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2021

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