With US sources indicating that Donald Trump is planning on withdrawing thousands of US troops from Afghanistan and with multiple international actors including the US welcoming December’s peace talks in the UAE, it is time for all interested parties to the conflict to narrow down the steps that should be taken as soon as possible in order for genuine peace to at least have the possibility of taking hold.
An all parties peace process is a must
There is no question that unless all of the elements that comprise the current government and officially sanctioned opposition in Kabul engage in direct talks with the Taliban – peace will simply never be possible. With the Taliban thought to be in control of anywhere from 35% and 65% of all Afghan territory, it is abundantly clear that a US led war against the Taliban which began in 2001 has clearly failed in its objective of creating a Taliban free Afghanistan.
It is now crucial for countries on all side of past alignments in Afghanistan to understand the Taliban’s specific appeal in much of Afghanistan’s south and in particular among many ethnic Pashtuns (the ethnic plurality in Afghanistan). Simplistic statements regarding the Taliban have long past their date of usefulness and instead, it must be understood that until the wider world and Kabul’s rulers accept that the Taliban are not going anywhere, progress will prove to be allusive. The only realistic solution is that a unity government must eventually be formed in which multiple political factions including the Taliban must learn to co-exist under a new mentality.
Regional solutions requiring international acknowledgement are preferable to international solutions requiring regional acknowledgement
This summer’s meeting in Islamabad between the intelligence chiefs of Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran offers a meaningful indication regarding efforts to instigate a regionally diverse and committed peace process for Afghanistan. Such a process offers a vastly more realistic chance of producing a desired outcome when compared to bloated international attempts at bringing peace to a land which is materially and metaphysically as remote from the hallowed hall’s of New York’s United Nations building as one could get.
While the origins and nature of the conflict in Syria are difficult to those in Afghanistan while the culture of the two nations is also impossible to compare, there is one common point of unity when it comes to devising a workable peace process. In respect of Syria, the United States has announced a full military withdrawal from the north-eastern parts of Syria that it has previously occupied while Turkish troops will move into the region as a new temporary peace keeping force.
This demonstrates that a conflict spiralling out of America’s control was best de-escalated through a collective regionalisation of the situation on the ground as well as the all important peace process. The Astana trio of Russia, Turkey and Iran have proved invaluable in respect of creating the kind of politically diverse and regionally authentic peace process that a joint Pakistan, Russia, China and Iran led process could ideally bring about for Afghanistan.
As in Syria, the results of a regionally authentic peace process in Afghanistan can be signed off by the international community as represented at the UN, but the origins and mechanics of this peace process must be regionally derived in order for it to get a chance at achieving the goal of military de-escalation.
Kabul must respect Pakistan’s territorial integrity
Yesterday’s news that the BLA terrorist who orchestrated an ultimately thwarted attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi was killed in Afghanistan, is a grim reminder of how anti-Pakistan terror groups like the BLA and TTP have used Afghanistan as a base for their operations targeting Pakistani officials, civilians and infrastructure. In the case of the BLA terror plot against the Chinese Consulate in Karachi, Afghanistan is now seeing its territory used as a base to orchestrate atrocities which have even wider geopolitical implications.
While the Kabul government can scarcely control its own territory, this has not stopped Kabul from allowing anti-Pakistan terrorism to thrive and receive assistance in Afghanistan. This is no way for a neighbour to behave if peace is to be an objective in future bilateral relations. It must also be noted that when US troops eventually leave Afghanistan – something which may well occur sooner rather than later if Donald Trump is to be believed, Afghanistan will at long last be forced to discover that it will have to live next to Pakistan and will have to do so in a manner that is mature and transparent.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has in fact reached out to Kabul in a spirit of peace and it is essential that such an olive branch is not slapped down by those in Kabul who want America to do their job for them. With Donald Trump now reaching out to Iman Khan directly in spite of sustained disagreements between Washington and Islamabad, it is clear that just as the US realised that it cannot bring peace to eastern Syria without Turkey, so too is it impossible for peace to flourish in Afghanistan without Pakistan playing a constructive role in the peace process.
It is therefore crucial for Afghanistan to immediately recognise The Durand Line as the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, while Kabul must simultaneously make significant commitments to clamping down on anti-Pakistan terrorism within its borders. Kabul must relay the same message to its Indian partner.
As Imran Khan has the unique ability to communicate Pakistan’s experience of being a victim of terror originating in Afghanistan in ways that far outshine those of his un-charismatic predecessors, the era of Afghanistan being allowed to proffer false narratives about Pakistan and get away with it in the wider world, is clearly coming to an end.
Belt and Road
Once a meaningful peace process is formally instigated, it is necessary for mechanisms to be in place which will allow the citizens of Afghanistan to experience the levels of prosperity which are requisite to establishing a sustainable peace. As Pakistan and Iran are both participants in the Belt and Road initiative, there is every reason for Afghanistan to become integrated into Belt and Road after the dust of internal strife settles.
While there are other economic offers on the table, what is clear is that without a commitment to future Belt and Road connectivity, such proposals will at best be incomplete as Belt and Road will give Afghanistan the greatest economic connectivity with the widest group of international partners while. Furthermore, such economic cooperation could also enhance Kabul’s relations with its neighbours to both the east and west.
End the drug trade
It was during the time of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that the production of opium in the country effectively ceased. Without seeking to recreate other elements of that period, it is necessary to reintroduce measures and specific methods to end the cultivation and sale of opium. No country can survive if it becomes a heaven for the damaging drug trade which itself funds international terror organisations including Daesh.
Therefore, a future Afghan government must harness all resources available to achieve the total elimination of drug production in the country as was once achieved in the late 1990s.