Ashraf Ghani’s peace formula analyzed
President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has proposed a new plan for ending the long conflict in his country. His proposals are basically a response to the US initiative that, among other steps, seeks to create an interim government including Taliban through consensus building between government and Taliban negotiators.
The first point in the proposed plan calls for a consensus on a political settlement and an internationally monitored ceasefire.
The second phase will be holding a presidential election, the establishment of a ‘government of peace’ and implementation arrangements for moving towards a new political system.
The third phase will involve building a ‘constitutional framework, reintegration of refugees and development’ for Afghanistan moving forward.
The road map has been shared with relevant countries.
The most important component of the new plan is the holding of elections for a new president that Ghani has said could take place within six months if other conditions are met.
The plan reflects the growing pressure on the Kabul government as the deadline for the exit of foreign forces approaches. The US plan that was conveyed to the Afghan government in a letter by Secretary of State Blinken was an attempt to push forward the stalled peace talks in Doha. The Doha stalemate has led to despair and disillusionment both among the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan. The Afghan government was widely believed to have been obstructing the peace process because in the event of the formation of an interim government, as envisaged in the document, the current government leaders would have to leave.
The US has already announced that it will not be possible for them to meet the deadline. Taliban have responded by asserting they will resume attacks on foreign forces if the departure deadline is not met. Any such resumption of attacks will derail the entire peace process.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
Taliban are skeptical of any new peace plan, particularly one put forward by the government. They believe the Doha agreement was reached after long and difficult negotiations spread over months. The agreement, according to Taliban, provides a realistic and pragmatic approach to ending the war. Any new road map will effectively terminate the agreement of February 2020. That will create a vacuum which could impact negatively on any endeavours seeking to end the conflict. The group believes, in the absence of any mutually acceptable plan, that they will go right back to square one.
The Doha agreement was a crucial milestone on the long road to peace in Afghanistan. It resulted in the release of thousands of prisoners both by the government and Taliban. The deal also ensured the Taliban would not be targeting foreign forces. They have complied with this provision of the deal and have not launched any attacks on foreign forces since February 2020.
Although there are still thousands of Taliban prisoners in custody and the blacklist containing names of Taliban with travel restrictions has not been withdrawn, the deal is still regarded as a reliable framework for peace in the country. Any new initiative will deepen suspicions and generate more acrimony instead of helping the path to peace.
Ghani’s plan therefore may draw some support from his western backers but will not be acceptable to the Taliban. Some Taliban leaders accuse the Afghan President of deliberately seeking to prolong the status quo by presenting road maps that will attract attention in western capitals.
In the backdrop of the proposals being put forward by Ghani and some others, one comes to the inescapable conclusion that the only sustainable peace plan is the one that revolves round the creation of an interim government by the traditional and time-honored Afghan institution of ‘Loya Jirga’ or People’s Grand Assembly.
An interim government to be led by the Taliban will be multi-ethnic, broad based and will comprise of leading tribal and ethnic leaders who are known not to have committed crimes against humanity. Such a new dispensation will have a fixed time period within which it will bring peace, deal with the menace of Daesh and other such outfits, make changes in the Constitution where needed and proceed to hold elections at the end of the stipulated period.
Clearly, Ghani is struggling to retain leadership of the war shattered country by presenting a new plan. In the meantime, the deadline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is fast approaching. The US has already announced that it will not be possible for them to meet the deadline. Taliban have responded by asserting they will resume attacks on foreign forces if the departure deadline is not met. Any such resumption of attacks will derail the entire peace process.
It is imperative therefore that all three major stakeholders— the US, Kabul and Taliban, begin a serious effort to narrow differences and work towards the creation of an interim government. That alone can guarantee a durable peace.
The US pressure on the Kabul government will be a key element in an evolving situation. An alternative to the agreed formula will be a rapid collapse of all institutions and will bring anarchy.
- 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.