After seven rounds of US-Taliban talks and intra-Afghan dialogue conferences in Moscow and Qatar, it seems, parties to the conflict in Afghanistan are probably inching closer to a peace deal. The possibility of reaching such a deal is something very much unpredictable and a topic for another day. However, politicians, experts and people of Afghanistan have been raising a number of concerns lately about the current peace efforts, most of which are directed to the post-peace agreement phase.
The first concern is that a peace agreement with the Taliban wouldn’t really lead to ensuring enduring peace and stability in the country. The worrisome part in this regard is that the Taliban are not the only armed group fighting the Afghan government and its allies. Multiple national and transnational outfits are reportedly involved in the ongoing violence. Taliban as a group have provided a chance to the numerous groups to nurture and they may continue waging violence even after the Taliban ceased armed hostility. Also, there are some speculations that radical elements among the Taliban could possibly join these other groups. The presence of the so-called Islamic State-Khurasan, al-Qaeda and several other regional terrorist outfits within Afghanistan and across the Durand Line further reinforces the speculation that the Taliban no longer can provide long-term regional and transnational goals for international terrorism and they, therefore, should be replaced with more ruthless and more extreme groups. In this sense, the concern is that a peace deal with the Taliban may not end the war, rather its nature and severity will drastically transform.
Additionally, since the details of the peace talks between the Taliban and the United States have not yet been clearly known to public, people think that a peace agreement may only be aimed at the withdrawal of US troops for two reasons: 1) The current US administration is no longer willing to continue its longest war in the history of the United States and there are some assumptions that withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan will be used by President Donald Trump as an achievement for the upcoming US presidential election campaign. 2) Since the majority of research institutions and think tanks in the US have come to a conclusion that the goals and objectives that the US was pursuing while invading Afghanistan in 2001 have completely changed, and this war is not worth fighting any longer. Given the above reasons, the concern is that the United States, under the name of a peace agreement, wants to pave the ground for its quick withdrawal through a superficial peace-making deal. Thus, instead of an inclusive agreement, a quick fix deal will be preferred for a hasty exit. The fear is that Afghanistan, like in the 1990s, will once again be abandoned only to plunge into civil war upon the withdrawal.
The third concern is the existence and the nature of the post-peace agreement government arrangements. This is very important because the presence and continuity of a political system is one of the essential components of the survival of a nation-state. Afghanistan has repeatedly suffered from lack of a functioning state system and its continuity in contemporary history, which not only caused bloody civil wars, but has significantly undermined its development process. Bloody coup d’état against Daoud Khan in 1978, the disintegration of the People Democratic Party’s government in 1992, collapse of the Mujahideen government in 1996 and overthrow of the Taliban’s regime by the international community in 2001, are clear examples of the discontinuity that severely undermined the state system in the country and thus provided ground for neighbors to interfere and further the suffering of Afghan people. Looking to these facts, if Taliban continue emphasizing on their long-holding positions of restoring its Emirat-E-Islami and the International Community, particularly, US do not provide guarantees for the continuity of the current state system, it is likely that the current relative stability and the fragile political system will disintegrate and Afghanistan might once again descend into a chaotic situation.
At present, as Afghanistan is preparing for presidential elections, scheduled for late September 2019, there is a serious concern that the US-Taliban deal may suspend, undermine or completely disrupt this democratic process. Would a peace deal be a zero-sum game for the nascent democracy in Afghanistan is a question always raised by the public. The general view is that if this disruption continues, all democratic processes will be replaced yet once again by autocratic regimes or utter anarchy. This way, the constitution and other laws guaranteeing political and civil freedoms will lose its spirit.
Thus, the nature and type of the post-peace agreement regime is also a source of serious concern. The concern remains valid because no one knows what type of government arrangement will come out of the peace deal. Afghan political parties, electoral tickets and experts are at odds on this important matter. Some favor establishment of a caretaker or interim government, while others support the idea of a power-sharing arrangement, and some even think of a transitional or provisional administration. The majority of those who advocate for a caretaker government believe that a peace deal is not possible until the elections this year. They also believe that the current government led by Ashraf Ghani wants to engineer the upcoming elections in their favor. Mr. Atmar’s, election team, one of the perceived leading candidates, has raised this concern on several occasions. Adversely, the idea of establishing a caretaker or interim government has been entirely rejected by President Ghani. The main reason for this rejection is that Ghani thinks if the election is held, his chance of winning is very high, while if parties agree to an interim government, he will lose the chance as he would never be picked by involved parties. Ghani is therefore, accused of being against peace by his political rivals. On the contrary, Mr. Ghani considers the interim government in contradiction of national interests and suggests that it could undermine the democratic system and would lead to another interruption to the state system in the country. At the same time, it remains unclear whether the Taliban will accept anything other than the restoration of their Islamic Emirate. All these contradictory positions have raised concerns among people about the peace process and elections.
Another issue that people are more concerned about and even the participants of intra-Afghan dialogue in Qatar expressed their apprehension on is the Taliban’s interpretation of the Islamic religion and Islamic law. Majority of the people think that the Taliban have not changed for the past eighteen years and they may again, resort to their previously held extreme position as far as Sharia Law is concerned. The Taliban are of the view that their interpretation represents true Islam. This concern is more common among women and those who think that the Taliban’s thinking is against the progress and achievements of the past two decades. This group wants to have a clear definition of “Islamic values and ordinances” when peace agreement or any relevant declarations are drafted between the parties.
Looking to the concerns above and the fact that the peace talks have not yet reached its final stage, now is the time that all parties involved in peace negotiations, including the international community, the United States, the Taliban, Afghan political elites, and the Afghan government should properly address these concerns. In case the peace deal fails to ensure a comprehensive peace, guarantee basic human rights and civil liberties, prevent the collapse of the state system, such a peace deal will be nothing but a recipe for disaster.
The writer (twitter: @zeeraky12) is Deputy Director of Afghanistan Affairs Unit (AAU). He has been involved in peace efforts in Afghanistan since 2010. He writes about peace, security, and politics of Afghanistan both in English and local languages, Pashto/Dari