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Here’s Why The Afghan Peace Process Is Bound To Succeed

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All parties have heavy stakes in the Afghan peace process, which is why it is not likely to fail; despite challenges and temporary setbacks, writes Amjad Ali Siyal.

The Qatar peace process that concluded on February 29 this year provided a renewed hope for peace in the war-torn Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries. It was agreed upon during the Doha process that the intra-Afghan negotiations will take place on March 10. However, some unexpected events including disagreement on prisoner swap between the Taliban and the Kabul government, issues between presidential contenders Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani, Covid-19 outbreak, etc. put the intra-Afghan negotiations on the backburner.

Owing to the rising tensions between Afghan government and the Taliban, many political pundits have questioned as to whether the region will achieve lasting peace. With heavy stakes in the Afghan peace process on the part of all stakeholders, the peace process is not likely to fail, despite challenges and temporary setbacks.

Soon after the signature event when the Taliban and the US signed the deal in Doha, as a precondition prisoner swap was to take place. The Kabul government refused to comply and reasoned that it was America that committed to Taliban for prisoner exchange but not the Afghan government, hence they are not bound to release the Taliban prisoners.

It had many dimensions that Afghan government was so rigid not to swap the prisoners in spite of the fact they were fully aware about that condition as part of the Qatar process. Firstly, it was the Afghan domestic politics that the government was reluctant to take risk. Otherwise the Kabul government, would be at the receiving end of the barrage of criticism from opponents and they could be charged with ‘being the American agents or puppets’ or ‘American dictation’ as it was American assurance to the Taliban before the intra-Afghan dialogue, but not the Kabul regime’s commitment at all.

Secondly, the controversial Afghan presidential election was yet to be settled. Ashraf Ghani wanted recognition from western countries as the re-elected Afghan president in return for releasing the prisoners.

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Additionally, it was the Covid-19 pandemic that also contributed in delaying the intra-Afghan dialogue process. As the entire world is currently trying to grapple with the novel coronavirus, like everything else the intra-Afghan dialogue process remains suspended. Neither Americans nor other facilitators such as Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, China, etc. are focusing on that very issue. These countries are too occupied in containing the pandemic and the resultant damage caused to their economies.

Nevertheless, they have stressed the need for maintaining utmost restraint to the Taliban and the Afghan government as they have stopped attacks against each other. In this backdrop, political pundits are skeptic about the success of the process.

It is pertinent to revisit background of the American alacrity for the negotiations. US President Donald Trump has to persuade ‘the Americans to vote for him again’ as he has delivered on his promises that he had made during the campaign of his previous term namely erected fence on the Mexican border, tough measures against the immigrants, and pulling out the troops engaged in wars in different countries. Moreover, granting favours to the Israel such as recognising the Israeli sovereignty on Golan Heights and Jerusalem as Israeli capital, and killing of Irani general Qasem Soleimani would be other victories to showcase before the Americans.

The US, as the super power with its massive military muscle and aid-provider, has a great deal of influence on the Afghans. America is the largest contributor in the defence/security expenditure of Afghanistan as well as to their economy. They cannot sustain themselves without the American help. In addition, now that the Taliban have fought and lived in hiding for 20 long years, they are also willing to reach an agreement as witnessed during the Qatar process.

Earlier, they were rigid in their approach vis-à-vis holding negotiations with the Kabul government. However, they are flexible and willing to talk to the Kabul regime. The only motive behind their ramped-up violence in Afghanistan is to pressure the Ghani government to release the Taliban captives and increasing their leverage when the negotiations will be conducted with the Afghan stakeholders.

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As Ashraf Ghani has now been recognised as the Afghan president, he will be willing to go ahead with the negotiations with little American push once the Covid-19 pandemic is over. Undoubtedly, it will take sufficient time, by then all the facilitators ought to insist the Taliban and the Kabul for temporary truce with a commitment that the negotiations will commence as soon as the coronavirus crisis is over.

Since Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have announced that they have reached a ‘tentative agreement’, it is incumbent on America and other neighbouring countries of Afghan to encourage the two for a possible settlement as soon as possible. This will not only bring in unity within Afghan ranks but also help them to tackle Covid-19. In the meanwhile, the Afghan regime may work on the agenda of intra-Afghan negotiations including finalisation of team, future constitution, on which issues to bargain with the Talibans, etc.

The road ahead is certainly challenging as after the signing of agreement between America and Taliban in Qatar have entered into the patchy phase that is the intra-Afghan peace process. Nonetheless, much progress that has been made by the stakeholders in this regard demonstrates each side merely wants to enhance their gains once the intra-Afghan dialogue kicks-off. Above all, president Trump will make every possible effort for the success of the process and keep the spoilers at bay in order to maximise his chances of victory in the November elections. He should also use the carrots-and-sticks policy to convince the Taliban and the Kabul government such as commitment to continue to provide aid for at least next decade in case stakeholders have arrived at a peaceful settlement.

He should also warn them that if America’s negotiation efforts are wasted by the Afghans, then the US will cut military and economic aid. Being a facilitator of the process, Pakistan should consistently and insistently encourage and play their vital role till the successful culmination of intra-Afghan negotiations. After all, peace in Afghanistan is in our interest too.

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