Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) organized a “Zoom Webinar” on the “Afghan Peace Process: Challenges and Prospects” on September 8, 2020. The distinguished panel, invited to deliberate and provide expert inputs on the subject, included Dr. Hussain Ali Yasa, Writer and Political Analyst, Afghanistan who spoke on the topic, “Future Contours of Afghan Polity: Is a Rapprochement Possible in Afghanistan?” . Mr. Mirwais Yasini, Member of Afghan parliament, Afghanistan spoke on the topic, “Does the Existing Afghan Constitution Cater for Afghanistan’s Political Needs?” Mr. Imtiaz Gul, Executive Director, Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad spoke on the topic, “Role of Neighbors in the Stability of Afghanistan. Ambassador (R) Syed Abrar Hussain, Former Ambassador to Afghanistan spoke on the topic, “Can UN Contribute towards Afghanistan’s Reconstruction in the Post US Withdrawal from Afghanistan” and Ms. Ammara Durrani, Senior Research Fellow, Jinnah Institute was invited to speak on the topic, “International Efforts for the Repatriation of Afghan Refugees” Brig. (R) Raashid Wali Janjua, Acting President/Director Research, IPRI gave welcoming and concluding remarks. Discussants, invited to comment on speakers’ discourse included Lt. Gen. (R) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, former Defence Secretary and Ambassador (R) Asif Durrani, Senior Research Fellow, IPRI.
The Doha Agreement between the United States and Taliban has made modest headway in meeting the terms of the Agreement. President Ashraf Ghani’s government was not party to the Agreement and was reluctant to follow its terms, especially on release of 5000 Taliban prisoners in lieu of 1000 government prisoners held by the Taliban. Although a Grand Jirga has authorized the release of the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners, there are still many glitches causing delays for the initiation of the Intra Afghan Dialogue.
The peace process would ensure and cater for a comprehensive dialogue including, inter alia, the nature and structure of future government, the Afghan constitution, future of Afghan security forces through foreign assistance, repatriation of Afghan refugees and the smuggling of narcotics across its border.
Concurrent to the Afghan peace process, the role of Afghanistan’s neighbors in stabilizing the situation in the country is of utmost importance. However, such an effort on a regional scale will face significant challenges if the United States withdraws its troops from Afghanistan before a deal between the Afghan government and Taliban is signed. Moreover, the role of the United Nations has to be taken into account after the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. In his meeting with the Taliban delegation, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi emphasized Pakistan’s commitment to the return of refugees to their homeland with ‘dignity’. However, the flow of refugees back to Afghanistan will depend on the social and economic realities in the country. It is upon the normalcy of political activity, an end to violence and a guarantee to their life and safety that refugees will be able to settle back.
In the light of views expressed by the speakers and discussion, following key takeaways are put forth:-
- For long, Afghanistan has undergone civil war, which is why the country cannot continue with the Presidential system. Afghans need to live in harmony, which is not plausible under the unitary system. A parliamentary system would suit Afghanistan in view of ethnic and religious diversity in the country. Given that Afghanistan has never had a fairly conducted population census, hardly any data is available to determine the ethnic and religious composition of the country.
- Democracy without political parties seldom progresses. Afghanistan does not have mainstream political parties yet. The 40-years of chaos in the country has turned most parties into militant entities. Therefore, political system must be institutionalized in Afghanistan so that strong political parties can be established.
- The Afghanistan issue is not just a political but a vital issue for the American establishment. No matter who wins the coming Presidential elections in America, result-oriented intra-Afghan talks should conclude in an acceptable solution to the satisfaction of all parties involved.
- Neighbors, especially India, must not exploit internal polarizations of Afghanistan and bilateral fault lines with Pakistan. Also, all stakeholders should be discouraged to support misleading statements. The US administration should nudge Afghanistan’s neighbours not to fish in troubled waters for their own narrowly defined national security interests.
- Reconstructing Afghanistan is a monumental task and it will require both international support and significant material and human resources. The UN is perhaps the only organization that can be used by the international community for this purpose. The UN has more presence in Afghanistan as compared to other entities. It has a vast network with a number of field offices in the country. There is a need for a joint comprehensive assessment of Afghanistan’s needs as it was done in the case of Guatemala and East Timor. The UN should demonstrate a neutral stance vis-à-vis all major groups in Afghanistan.
- The intra-Afghan dialogue also needs to discuss the return of Afghan refugees with a socio-economic and cultural balance. In addition, the Afghan Constitution, the future of the security forces, the nature of foreign assistance after the withdrawal of the US forces, and the nature and structure of the whole relationship between society and the government in Afghanistan are the most important aspects that need to be clarified in a comprehensive intra-Afghan dialogue.
- Theoretically, it is easy to say that Afghanistan should be left alone and every solution should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. Currently, the state of negotiations in Afghanistan is not Afghan-owned and not totally Afghan-led either. It is being assisted and guided. Therefore, a review of interests of the main international players in Afghanistan is in order.
- Most importantly, all those who benefit from the chaos in Afghanistan are spoilers whether internal or external, and should be identified and adequately tackled. Moreover, there is need for a new constitutional arrangement, which should be based upon principles of Republicanism and Pluralism. The process of ‘democratic reconstruction’ should also begin along with the reconstruction of Afghanistan.