Many a mile to go - Pakistan Today

Many a mile to go

Candid Corner

  • Enveloped in ambiguities, difficult is the path to peace

“If only there were evil people out there insidiously committing evil deeds, and if it were just simple, we could separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But, the line dividing good from evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who among us is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?”

                                                                                      Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

There may be a lot of of trumpeting about peace, but it is nowhere to be seen yet.

Much has transpired since the USA scuttled the deal its Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation had concluded with the Taliban back in September, 2019. The fact that the talks recommenced after the setback and, understandably, we now have a new, conditions-based agreement to help the reconciliation process move forward, is no small wonder. Whether this initial consensus can be transformed into a momentum towards achieving composite peace in Afghanistan in the foreseeable future is the haunting question that the parties to the conflict and the world are faced with.

According to information available so far, if the observance of a seven-day ceasefire which started on February 22 holds, the USA and Taliban will sign a deal on February 29. This will be followed by further cessation of hostilities for nine days leading to the commencement of an intra-Afghan Dialogue in Oslo. It is hoped that representatives of all stakeholders in Afghanistan would be able to sit around a table to thrash out their differences and come up with a broad agreement to move towards reconciliation in the war-ravaged country. While this is the preferred course to take, it remains embedded with challenges some of which may be insurmountable over a short period of time.

At the core of it lies a deep mistrust among the parties with each one vying for garnering a leading role in managing the country to the subservience of others. The Taliban remain the main suspect in the emerging paradigm and their intentions will be closely scrutinised. They have fought their way to recognition over the last two decades and they remain convinced that time is on their side. If need be, they could wait further to place themselves in an impregnable position. That is what the others are wary of and, without the US presence and support, they are afraid they would be simply run over.

There is also this fear that a second coming of the Taliban would take Afghanistan back to the days when they were last in command – the days of obscurantism and retrogression. A chill runs through one’s being just thinking of that prospect. But, then, who would stop that in the event the Taliban are actually able to gain control to the exclusion of other stakeholders? Are we headed back to the days of darkness?

The fear is not without substance, more so because of the inherent mindset that the Taliban are notorious to persist with. Their insistence on doing things only if sanctioned by the Shari’a also raises serious doubts about their intentions with regard to maintaining the democratic ethos of the country and ensuring compatible human rights for women and other communities as is stated in the existent constitution of the Republic of Afghanistan. This is a serious matter which will require intensive and extensive parleys between the stakeholders in an effort to arrive at a broad consensus.

Then is the case of President Ashraf Ghani who, in spite of advice to the contrary by the US and other parties, insisted on holding the elections last September, results of which have now been announced declaring him to be the outright winner. This has been summarily rejected by Abdullah-Abdullah and his associates and they have threatened to constitute a parallel government in the country. If that may be the case, it is bound to complicate matters further. These schisms would, inter alia, work to the advantage of the Taliban and to the detriment of the long-term prospects for reconciliation. In fact, President Ghani may emerge as the one jeopardising the chance of reaching understanding among the warring factions in the country.

Let’s face it: this deal, if it is signed as expected, does not provide a secure pathway to peace in Afghanistan. It’s a misnomer. It is barely a passage to facilitate a phased-out withdrawal of the US troops from the war zone leaving the stakeholders to forge an understanding to share the spoils of ruling the country. In that equation, it is the Taliban who have a preponderant hold in terms of the number of committed fighters they have, the area they control and the power that they command. This is a formidable superiority which other stakeholders will find difficult to eclipse once the USA has retreated from the country. Given the Taliban’s traditional reluctance to share power, it does not bode well for the process of reconciliation and would inevitably lead to an effort on their part to assume a position of ascendance to the exclusion of others.

A threat also looms over the formation of the delegation by President Ghani to negotiate with the Taliban in Oslo. The broad advice given to him is to constitute an inclusive delegation comprising all stakeholders, leaving none out, so that the agreement that is negotiated would also be sustainable. Understandably, he has issues with that as he would only like to include people who agree with his appraisal and roadmap for the future, principally his continuation as the President for another term. This would provide an opportunity for the Taliban to exploit the divisions within the opposite camp to their advantage.

The long-term US intentions are also not clear yet. While there is considerable clarity regarding withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan depending on the terms of the agreement which is yet to be announced, the same is lacking in the context of the number of troops that would remain stationed in the country. Also, what would be the fate of the US bases there? In the presence of an increasingly dominant Taliban, leaving everything for the Afghans to settle would be a real-time danger. There is absolutely no ambiguity regarding their inherent desire to rule the country as they have always been eager to re-acquire the de facto status alongside the de jure one which they claim they have always had.

One understands that it is going to be a conditions-based deal where every new step would be dependent upon successfully accomplishing the ones leading up to that. But, there is no clarity regarding what may happen in case the parties cannot move beyond a certain point and there is a deadlock. Who plays the referee? Who would nudge them further? May be, a simple nudge would not be enough. It may require a push. Who would take that responsibility?

An irrefutable commitment to peace and a willingness to work together are the essential constituents for reconciliation in Afghanistan. I believe that both are missing at this juncture. While the former is a state of mind which is found rarely in a tribal and combative society, the latter is hard to get in view of the divisions which have only deepened in the last two decades.

There is also this fear that a second coming of the Taliban would take Afghanistan back to the days when they were last in command – the days of obscurantism and retrogression. A chill runs through one’s being just thinking of that prospect. But, then, who would stop that in the event the Taliban are actually able to gain control to the exclusion of other stakeholders? Are we headed back to the days of darkness?

The path to peace is not clear. Not yet!

The writer is a political analyst and the Executive Director of the Regional Peace Institute. He can be reached at: [email protected]; Twitter: @RaoofHasan.



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