How Afghan Peace Process can succeed?
The prevailing stalemate in Afghan war amply validates the futility of military option in defeating insurgency. Erroneously, the political alternative has also been used to supplement the military option and weaken the insurgency to make it more amenable to reconciliation. It is now imperative that political negotiations in Afghanistan are pursued with sole objective of peace and stability in the country. An effort is made through these lines to suggest a workable way forward for successfully pursuing the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Peace negotiations should be allowed to move forward while employment of reconciliation and reintegration as an instrument of military strategy to be abandoned once for all.
The viability of fight and talk seems out of place and needs to be discarded for a more workable option. The strategy in place has failed to remove prevailing trust deficit among belligerents, an essential component of any peace process. Certain Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) that can be put in place include, delisting of Taliban leaders from UN sanction list, release of prisoners and agreement on power sharing mechanism. The strategy of pursuing talks with selected insurgent groups should be done away with and an all inclusive, broad based as well as comprehensive dialogue be initiated. The discrimination among various insurgent groups citing various reasons such as relations with al-Qaida, greater inclination towards radicalism etcetera should be avoided. The past experience during reintegration drive suggests that efforts towards dividing Taliban have not been fruitful, instead it has caused greater trust deficit and proved detrimental to peace process.
Insistence on pre conditions from both sides has adversely hampered the prospects of successful reconciliation. The resilience demonstrated by Taliban in the combat is entirely based upon their ideological motivation. The expectation that Taliban would renounce their struggle for the sake of reconciliation is nothing more than an absurd approach. A unilateral response from Taliban at this stage when they contemplate victory due to ISAF drawdown is highly unlikely. It is thus vital for the success of peace dialogue that both sides concede from their maximalist positions. The Afghan conflict cannot be termed as a mere insurgency against the foreign occupation and incumbent Kabul Government rather it is an incessant clash of interests between various ethnicities and groups in Afghanistan. Reconciliation cannot be limited to the immediate actors of the current conflict but needs to be a broader process within the deeply divided Afghan society. To that end, a wide-ranging and exclusive intra-Afghan dialogue that is independent of any external interference is compulsory to ensure the success and sustainability of reconciliation process.
The international community has always maintained that the reconciliation process has to be Afghan-led, and Afghan owned. As a matter of fact, neither the Afghan leadership nor international community has been able to develop an institutional framework for such an initiative. In a situation where US is the major party to the conflict while Afghan Government lacks capacity to be in the lead, an alternative mechanism is essential. Now there is a need to deliberate upon the employment of some facilitator of ‘talks’ like the UN or the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). While involvement of regional countries in essential for a sustainable way forward on Afghanistan, the perception management during the process and maintaining balance between conflicting interests is a delicate issue. Afghanistan’s six neighbors as well as key relevant regional actors have dis¬parate and often clashing interests in Afghanistan’s future. It is thus essential that regional players are fully onboard with the reconciliation process for sustainable peace in the country.
The inaptness of High Peace Council (HPC) to make some worthwhile breakthrough in peace negotiations is evident. Many HPC members have benefitted from conflict environments in the country and thus may not be in a position to honestly broker peace with Taliban. It may therefore be necessary to revitalize the organization though appropriate reinforcements and fresh mandate. Moreover, some of the Afghan ruling elite consider reconciliation harmful to their vested interests and fears losing their current influence. These interest groups will obscure any meaningful progress towards peace with Taliban by exploiting their official clout. International community in general and US in particular will do well to rein in the potential manipulation of these segments for the success of the peace process.
The resolution of Afghan conundrum seems a distant proposition unless there is major shift in the priorities as well as policies of major stakeholders. The prevailing strategic stalemate in the Afghan conflict manifests futility of military strategy and suggests undertaking a more prudent and objective assessment of the situation. There was a need to allow political instrument to precede military option at an earlier timeframe but divergence of opinion among US policy makers, various stakeholders of the conflict and domestic Afghan interests groups has squandered that opportunity. At this stage there is a need to accelerate the peace process while curtailing the efforts of various external as well as internal stakeholders to influence the dialogue for vested interests. To achieve this, US will have to concede substantially from its current position and accept the role of neutral arbitrators for mediating the peace agreement.