By: Zeerak Yousofi
March 24, 2018
The Government of Afghanistan provided the Taliban with a historic offer for peace during the Kabul process II conference on February 28, 2018. The roadmap that President Ashraf Ghani presented during this conference has phenomenally addressed all those preconditions that the Taliban has been asking for the last one and a half decade.
Using different formal and informal forums, the Taliban and their sympathizers in and outside of the country have always cited these prerequisites as excuses for not engaging with the Afghan Government in peace talks. This comprehensive roadmap encompasses a broad range of issues including agreeing to opening a Taliban office for negotiations, issuing passports to facilitate freedom of travel and movement, helping with removing of sanctions, facilitating media access to those who join peace talks as well as relocating their families. Additionally, the roadmap offers to recognize the Taliban as a political party and will facilitate its transformation from a purely militant movement to a political entity. Inclusion in the political arena of the country, addressing detainees’ issues and agreeing to constitutional amendments according to the constitutional procedure are other incentives that have been generously offered as part of this roadmap.
Moreover, the roadmap has sketched out a practical plan for implanting negotiations through providing building blocks for political processes, legal framework, security guarantees and, economic and social development. This new overture has seemingly put the Afghan government in a position of moral high ground as far as political settlement in the country is concerned.
The government’s peace plan was widely supported by national, regional and international actors. Even the hardliners in the Afghan politics and the Taliban sympathizers who constantly criticize government’s policies for peace and security have failed to question the comprehensiveness of this roadmap. Regional countries and the international community not only supported this overture, but promised to honestly contribute to its implementation. Even Pakistan, as the prime supporter of the Taliban, has publically expressed its support and called upon the Taliban to join peace talks as there remains no “excuse” for continuation of war.
To the surprise of many analysts and experts, unlike the historic pattern of immediate responses to such overtures in the past, Taliban has been silent after more than three weeks passing by and have not been able to come up with either a positive or negative reaction. Looking to some indirect messages, it is obvious that they would not make up their mind any sooner and will continue violent attacks on civilian and military targets. It is believed that Internal differences and rivalries, lack of a unified decision-making power, fear of losing control over the fighting forces on the ground and disruption of the flow of external funding are the main causes that would hamper the Taliban from constructively engaging in reconciliation with the Afghan government in near future. Evidently, they would continue insisting on their long-holding position of directly talking to the Americans. Additionally, they will repeat their previous narrative of the withdrawal of the international troops from Afghanistan as one of their preconditions for starting negotiations, despite the fact that Afghan government has indicated that everything could be talked about, including the presence of international troops, once formal negotiations commence.
Apparently, the prospects for reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban are rather dimmer in the near future, which is why many ask about other options that the Afghan government have and could utilize in case Taliban refuse to present themselves as a negotiating party.
As noted above, it is the first time that the Taliban are politically, morally and socially under immense pressure than ever before, and their denial to come forward for peace talks will further increase this pressure, justifying any types of actions by the Afghan government and its international allies against them. Alternative options in the event of declining to negotiate may be inclusive of followings:
As the president of Afghanistan indicated in his speech at the Kabul Process conference II, the new peace roadmap was the result of the government and High Peace Council’s country-wide consultations and consensus building efforts where Afghans from all walks of life throughout the country called upon the government to address the legitimate concerns and demands of the Taliban and pave the ground for a political settlement. Ceding to the public desire, the government has done its part and now it is incumbent on the Taliban to respect public voices and renounce focusing on violent means for achieving their objectives. Failing to do so will socially put the Taliban under pressure and intensification of government’s public outreach and mobilization efforts, especially at the local level, which will help in sidelining the Taliban and will strip them out of the tribal as well as local population’s backing.
In the meantime, the generous peace offer left the Taliban with no choice, but to choose peace and reconciliation or be declared irreconcilable elements who are providing a nurturing ground for terrorist groups with no respect for the will and lives of the people. As these irreconcilables will serve as an umbrella for regional and international terrorist networks and will pose a serious threat to regional and global security, the government of Afghanistan could engage with its regional and international partners to garner their support for further strengthening Afghanistan’s National Security and Defense Forces and taking joint kinetic actions against irreconcilable groups within the Afghan soil and their sanctuaries in the neighboring countries.
The peace offer has seriously put the legitimacy of the ongoing war into question, increasing the already existing divide among the Taliban which will result in emerging new breakaway groups at all levels of the hierarchy including political leadership, regional and local leaders as well as fighting forces. This type of drift and divide is, however, already evident in many areas. In order for the government of Afghanistan to address the issue of defection and desertion and to locally engage with the Taliban, launching a broader strategy as a bottom-up approach for incentivizing local recocnilees will create an enabling environment for a peaceful settlement through linking it with the top-down efforts.
As refugees living in the neighboring countries of Pakistan and Iran have been serving as a recruitment base for the Taliban and its supporters for many years, accelerating the implementation of the repatriation plan that President Ashraf Ghani put forward in the Kabul process Conference II, and engaging with the refugees through a comprehensive outreach plan will contribute in decreasing the level of violence through reducing recruitment opportunities among refugees. This will have a direct impact on the battlefield inside Afghanistan.
Addressing the ideological factor of continuation of violence is another area where the government of Afghanistan could specifically capitalize on. Mobilizing religious scholars and Ulema at national, regional and international levels, forging close relations with international Islamic organizations and centers, reaching out to Islamic countries including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Egypt and others, and convening regional and international Ulema Conferences could contribute towards religiously challenging the continuation of violence waged under the name of the sacred religion of Islam. Religiously cornering the Taliban and questioning the credibility of their spiritual and ideological sources and argumentations will weaken their position in the Islamic world, and at the meantime will affect the funding they receive under the name of waging Jihad. Recent open letter the Taliban sent to the religious scholars of the world warning them about their participation in the upcoming Ulema Conference in Indonesia is a clear indication of their anxiousness from this facet.
Hence, if the Taliban do not respond positively to the peace offer, the government of Afghanistan and its international partners could have a blend of political, military, social and ideological options to undertake: Putting political pressure on the Taliban through various national and international means (imposing sanctions on Taliban and their supporting countries, declaring them as a terrorist organization, closing their office in Qatar and elsewhere, addressing the issue of sanctuaries and etc.), mounting military pressure through launching counter-insurgency operations inside Afghanistan, mobilizing international, regional and national support to build consensus on denouncing violence and continuation of conflict in Afghanistan, engaging with local Taliban for local reconciliation, jointly working on a masterplan of refugees repatriation in a speedy manner and constructively engaging with them, and mobilizing national and international religious scholars as well as Islamic entities. It is, however, not an easy task and will need a long-term strategic planning as violence and loss of precious human lives may continue.
The writer (twitter: @ayubi987) is an independent analyst with focus on international political affairs as well as peace and security in Afghanistan. He writes both in English and local languages, Pashto/Dari