AS questions swirl over whether or not the US will honour its commitment to withdraw foreign troops from Afghanistan by May 1, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has reportedly readied a new plan to salvage the peace process. The Afghan leader’s three-step process is designed to incrementally bring down violence and spur the political process. As per details available in the media, the first step envisages a ceasefire and a political settlement; a presidential election and “government of peace” are part of step two; while building a “constitutional framework” for the war-torn country is the third and final step. As the Afghan Taliban — the primary foes of the government in Kabul — are wary of any ‘foreign’ initiatives, this peace plan may have more potential for success. The US, which backs Afghanistan’s government, is hoping some sort of deal will be reached by the Taliban and the Kabul administration at a peace conference due to take place in Turkey later this month. Meanwhile, it appears more and more difficult that Washington will ensure all foreign forces are out of Afghanistan by the beginning of May, though some say the Taliban may promise to halt attacks if the deadline is in fact extended.

Indeed, the sooner the foreign forces leave Afghanistan and let the Afghans decide their own destiny, the better it will be. However, this must be an orderly process and the US and its allies cannot just cut and run, much like the Soviets did at the end of the Afghan ‘jihad’. While the US and the Taliban had signed a peace accord in Doha last year — under which the May 1 deadline has been set — there has been no corresponding agreement among the Afghan stakeholders. The Ghani peace plan and the meeting in Turkey offer a chance for the Afghans themselves to reach an agreement. The Taliban should take advantage of the situation, and instead of dismissing the Kabul administration as foreign ‘puppets’ they must engage with it to forge a way out of the decades-long crisis that has ravaged Afghanistan. If the Taliban remain obdurate, the cycle of violence will continue, worsening the misery of the Afghan people. The Afghan government must assure all stakeholders that the peace process will pave the way for free and fair elections that will empower all Afghan tribes and ethnic and religious groups. If all sides show flexibility, Afghanistan’s long nightmare could end soon.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2021

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