On the cusp of a deal in Afghanistan
All indications are that the United States and Taliban are on the verge of concluding a peace deal in Afghanistan. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday, informing him that significant progress had been made in the ongoing talks between the two sides in Doha, Qatar. This has also been independently verified by Taliban representatives who have confirmed that the insurgent group has agreed to substantially reduce attacks on the government and foreign forces in the war-ravaged country.
For a host of reasons, the Taliban would not agree to a prolonged ceasefire since an extended interruption in their attacks could adversely impact the motivation of the movement’s field cadres. That could result in a split in the Taliban ranks.
Perhaps the only remaining obstacle to a peace deal is the reluctance of some senior Taliban leaders to go along with the proposed agreement, though efforts are being made to bring them on board as well. By all indications, it seems that soon there will be a consensus on the main points of the deal.
This is good news.
The US internal political landscape provides a conducive environment for reconciliation. President Donald Trump has emerged victorious from his impeachment trial and is now focused on a long election campaign. Reconciliation in Afghanistan and bringing US troops back home can surely be projected as a major accomplishment by his administration. Ending a long war will be viewed as a vital contribution, something that most Americans will see with great delight.
That said, formidable challenges will continue to persist. The agreement that will be signed with Taliban leaders will mandate the US to begin the withdrawal of its forces within a specified time frame. In return, the Taliban will guarantee that no external militant outfit will be allowed to operate in the country or target other states. This is not really a crucial point in the process since the group has never accepted the fact that it has been working in concert with or facilitating the activities of militants who target or attack other countries.
Soon after the signing of the deal, attention will be focused on intra-Afghan dialogue. The composition of the teams participating in the process, the scope of its deliberations, and the goals to be achieved will immediately become relevant issues. The Taliban are not likely to accept the legality or constitutionality of the regime in Kabul. The Afghan government would not give in easily on its identity as an elected administration that came into power after an electoral contest that was held under the country’s constitution.
After the signing of the deal, attention will be focused on intra-Afghan dialogue. The Taliban are not likely to accept the legality or constitutionality of the regime in Kabul, though the Afghan government will try to assert its identity as an elected administration.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
The US clout and preeminence in Afghanistan’s security and economic sectors would obligate it to play a decisive role in the intra-Afghan negotiations. Perhaps the only way to break the impasse would be to hold a Loya Jirga or Grand Assembly in consultation with all stakeholders, including the Taliban. The Loya Jirga would be entrusted with the task of formulating a framework for an interim government. All parties would be bound to accept its decision.
The Jirga would adjudicate upon issues like the composition of interim government, its mandate and duration etc.
There is no alternative at this stage that could, on the one hand, mainstream the Taliban and, on the other, ensure the government’s continuity to avoid a catastrophic infighting leading to wider instability and chaos in the country.
In order to create an enabling environment for the US to pull out its troops, the Taliban have, according to reports, agreed to allow the US to keep a few military bases for a short duration of time. Whether the Taliban would require tangible guarantees for these bases to be vacated within the agreed time frame is not clear. But reports indicate that the group would continue to maintain normal relations with Washington just as its leaders are developing close ties with Russia. The US has full knowledge of the Taliban establishing relations with Russia, China and Iran. All of these three countries are convinced that Daesh, a brutal outfit that has killed thousands in Afghanistan, can only be defeated with the Taliban in government. And Daesh is a threat to the peace and stability of all these states.
The long term scenario cannot be predicted because regional and international political situations change. But one thing is clear: In the event of Taliban coming into power in a multi-ethnic dispensation, the movement will entirely focus on the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the war-torn country. For that to happen, it will seek support and cooperation of not only the US but also regional countries like Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia and India, besides many others.
– Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade