The Long Shot for Peace

After the recent events that took place in Afghanistan, hopes for peace have risen high. From the government’s initiative of a ceasefire (on Eid) to its reciprocation by the Afghan Taliban, the possibility of reconciliation among warring parties, received an affirmation. However, the resumption of attacks by the Afghan Taliban, refusal to accept the government’s proposal for talks and decision to take action against those members who were swapping selfies with soldiers and government officials during the three-day ceasefire, undermined the hopes that had initially been rekindled.

These developments clearly speak of the mindset and psyche of the Afghan Taliban, who possibly want the government to consider their power and hold as legitimate. Or, possibly it is that the Taliban might not like or believe to give up their established power without any solid assurances by entering into any deal or settlement as it happened in the case of Hizb-e-Islami, previously. But in this entire enigma, parties must understand that settlements are majorly based on ‘balanced proportions of give and take’.

In another development, it is suspected that Ashraf Ghani’s offer to hold unconditional peace talks might set the stage for the US to open back-channel negotiations with the Taliban. With all the Afghan government has to offer, the opportunity now lies with the Americans and their diplomatic skills, largely. Realistically, neither the US’s bid of peace in Afghanistan nor the tactics of engagement by the US are lucrative enough. For a national government, stability is the key to a vital national interest but for the US, it is its peaceful exit and the threat of Da’ish that are the primary concerns.

More so, the Afghan policy under Trump has become more aggressive with its heavy reliance on aerial power with frequent air strikes. However, if the strikes aim to target the militants, civilian casualties also constitute the total. As per reports, heavy bombing against the Taliban and IS saw more Afghan civilians killed and injured from the air in 2017 than at any time since the UN began counting in 2009.

The Dasht-e-Archi district incident in April, when a group of students who were attending a traditional ceremony of their memorisation of the Quran were killed in the aerial bombing alongside the militants, the incident resulted in only reducing the already low support for the foreign forces in the region.

Besides, with the brokering of ceasefire deal by China and Pakistan, there are major lessons for the US to learn. Important of all: there is no Pakistan-minus solution to the Afghan crisis. While the US gilds India as another ‘major’ stakeholder for socio-economic development in Afghanistan, persistent presence of insurgency in the land would multiply the developmental effects with zero, that is, good for nothing. Indian rapprochement towards Afghanistan is an excellent example of diplomatic maneuvering but changing partners would certainly change the circumstances for the US but not for the good.

Besides the ceasefire, the Helmand Peace March has also come up as an historic event. Afghan peace activists have arrived in Kabul after trekking some 700 kilometres on foot calling for an end to Afghanistan’s nearly 17-year war. This venture has set a precedent as it gave voice to the people’s aspiration with the slogans like, ‘We want peace’ and ‘Stop the war.’ As an initiative, it is a remarkable effort to record the aspirations of Afghan people globally as the march has gotten much traction in the media. The demands majorly call for a ceasefire between the Taliban and government forces, peace talks between the two sides, the implementation of a law agreed upon by the government and the Taliban, and the withdrawal of foreign forces. The group’s demands are simple and generic but are something stakeholders have not been able to agree to in the last 7 to 12 years. And for the moment, their acceptance still remains a question mark.

The stakes for peace in Afghanistan have been raised again at an all-time high. The initiatives and efforts have come up altogether in a new fashion but is it possible that this time peace would be given a priority? Not much resides with the thought.

Article originally published in Express Tribune on June 24, 2018.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy

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