Would Peace in Afghanistan Remain Elusive?
With the relative improvement in Pak-Afghan bilateral relations post 20th visit of President Hamid Karzai to Islamabad, fresh optimism vis-à-vis the resolution of Afghan issue has emerged. Notwithstanding the shared quest of both nations towards stable and prosperous environment in the region, the prospects of peace continue to be marred with uncertainties, and suspicion. Given impracticable expectations, undefined motives and diametrically opposed perspectives at this stage, the odds favoring Pak-Afghan consensus on way forward are hard to predict.
The conflict in Afghanistan represents a classical notion of stalemate between the belligerents. With least prospects of the military victory of any of the parties to the conflict, efforts towards the political settlement of the Afghan issue have lately gained impetus. Besides recognizing the need for reconciliation, essence of ethnic harmony among various Afghan communities for the sustainability of the peace process has also been acknowledged by all and sundry. Have we seen any practical manifestation of genuine efforts towards the promotion of ethnic harmony in Afghanistan? Majority response is expected to be in negative. More than a decade long international involvement in Afghanistan has failed to address the ethnic disharmony in the country. With reconciliation process gaining momentum, the qualms among various non-Pashtun Afghan ethnicities also continue to grow. The deep rooted mistrust among non-Pashtuns over President Hamid Karzai’s motives of peace talks is hard to go unless; they are fully taken on board. It is another irony that High Peace Council (HPC) which is expected to play significant role in reconciliation, consists of former Jihadis who had been fighting Taliban and some of them continue to oppose peace talks. Given unprecedented efforts towards pursuing Afghan insurgents for engaging in peace talks, intra-Afghan dialogue has been neglected.
Nonetheless, it is apparent that stability and peace in Afghanistan is unequivocally linked with the intra-ethnic harmony in the country. The negotiated settlement of the Afghan issue can only succeed when it is led, pursued and owned by all ethnic communities of the country and there is national consensus on the way forward. It is thus apparent that the reconciliation with Taliban is explicitly linked with the endorsement of process by all non-Pashtun communities i.e. Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and Turkman who fought Taliban during civil war of 90s.
In the past, endeavors towards promoting the concept of intra-Afghan dialogue have mainly been restricted to few Track-II initiatives, most significant being the parleys on 19-21 December 2012 at Chantilly (Paris) between Afghan Government, political opposition mainly comprising of non-Pashtuns and Taliban representatives. Unfortunately, the conflicting interests of domestic Afghan stakeholders seriously undermined the further progress of the initiative, rendering it controversial. Pakistan has been an active proponent of the negotiated settlement of Afghan issue and has always supported the necessity of intra-Afghan harmony for the success of reconciliation process. The peace and stability of Pakistan is inextricably linked with the success of peace efforts in Afghanistan. Pakistan therefore needs to contribute more substantially for the success of peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan while taking under mentioned steps;
Firstly, highlight the vitality of intra-Afghan dialogue for the success of peace process through perpetual diplomatic efforts. Secondly, urge all Afghan stakeholders to develop consensus on political settlement of the conflict.
Thirdly, facilitate participation of Taliban representatives in intra-Afghan initiatives whenever requested by Afghan Government and international community.
Fourthly, facilitate ongoing reconciliation initiatives both, bilaterally with Afghanistan as well as internationally. Fifthly, develop understanding with all Afghan communities for a meaningful role without any preference of a particular group and ethnicity.
Sixthly, remove existing trust deficit with international, regional and domestic stakeholders in Afghanistan. In post 2014 Afghanistan, rapprochement among all Afghan ethnicities is essential to mitigate the prospects of civil war in the country. A successful intra-Afghan dialogue has to be viewed as a prelude to the broad based and meaningful reconciliation process. Moreover, the singular aim of intra-Afghan dialogue should be peace in Afghanistan; the process should not be allowed to be made hostage to the vested political motives. Externally also, the intra-Afghan dialogue should not be driven by the interests of international as well as regional stakeholders. In nutshell, Pakistan alone cannot ensure peace and stability of Afghanistan, therefore, International community has to undertake a proactive role if intra-Afghan dialogue, that ultimately leads to a sustainable reconciliation process, is to succeed.