IT is a fact that the tangled knot that is the Afghan conflict will not be undone overnight. Apart from the fact that the country has witnessed decades of instability, starting from the Soviet invasion in 1979 up to the American invasion in 2001 and onwards, the fact that numerous players are involved also complicates matters. For example, on the Afghan domestic front, there is the elected government, which is itself a mixture of the country’s numerous tribes, ethnic groups and power brokers, whose interests do not always reconcile. Opposing Ashraf Ghani’s government are the Taliban, Afghanistan’s principal militant actor — a group that at one time ruled from Kabul before being dislodged by the Americans. Then there are the foreign elements that have played a key role in Afghanistan’s internal affairs; the Americans top this list, though other regional players are also involved in the game. But it is a fact that were the Taliban to reach a settlement with the US as well as the Kabul government, they would go a long way towards ending years of conflict and achieving a durable peace. However, the long-running negotiations between the US and Taliban have yet to achieve the ideal results, though at times it has appeared that both parties have been tantalisingly close to an agreement. On Tuesday, a Taliban spokesman accused the Americans of stalling the peace process and “blame-shifting”. The statement appears to be a reaction to the US secretary of state’s recent comments that the Taliban must reduce violence in order for the peace process to move forward.
The statements from both sides may well be public posturing to put pressure on the other and achieve maximum gains behind closed doors. After all, US officials recently visited Afghanistan and Pakistan to brief both states on the status of the negotiations. Indeed, the Taliban need to shun violence, especially the targeting of non-combatants, to send a signal to all concerned that they are serious about peace. However, the US must also realise that there is a small window of opportunity here, and if the Taliban are rebuffed they must shun the peace process altogether and return to the battlefield for the long run. This outcome will only spell more misery for the people of Afghanistan. Both sides need to drop maximalist positions and reach a doable agreement, while the Afghan government must be kept in the loop for the peace process to succeed.
Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2020