Friday, June 21, 2013

Where will peace talks in Afghanistan lead us?

Taliban office in Doha, Qatar

Guest author, Archiwal Ahmadullah, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA, is a prominent activist in the Afghan peace movement.

The inauguration of the Taliban’s new office in Doha dominated the front-page of all the major international newspapers, and caused enormous diplomatic debates in Kabul, Washington, and the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The office, which was named the Office of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan, and was decorated with the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan's flag, has caused great controversy. The Afghan government suspended all the efforts aimed at engaging the Taliban, and suspended the talks on the security agreement with the United States as well.

The over-night talks of US Secretary of State, John Kerry, with Afghan president Hamid Karzai over the matter seem to have been an effort to reduce diplomatic tensions, although in the meantime the Taliban removed the plaque and flag of the Islamic Emirate from their Doha office. However, the effort seems not to have been fruitful.  Instead, the Afghan government feels pushed into a corner, and opposes the peace talks. 

Ismail Qasimyar, a member of the High Peace Council, a government sponsored body that has been tasked to negotiate with the Taliban, has expressed his discomfort over the talks with the Taliban and said that the removal of the flag is not enough.

Initially, it was the Afghan government that advocated the establishment of an office for the Taliban.l President Karzai personally visited Doha to hold talks to expedite the process of establishing the office. The move was aimed at reducing Pakistani influence over the Taliban and engaging them directly. However, it seems that the Afghan government is discontented with its not having a role in the peace talks, and  also with the Pakistani involvement in the peace process to such a critical degree.

The media reports suggest that the current political developments are the results of secret diplomacy among a number of stakeholders, including the US, Pakistan, the Taliban and the political opposition to the Afghan government, which has only been minimally reported on by the Western media.

While there has always been support for a peaceful solution to the Afghan problem among various quarters of Afghan society - a process that represents the only way forward - starting the entireprocess from zero has caused concern for the populace. It took the Afghans and the international community a long time and cost enormous amounts of human and monetary resources to put an institutional nexus, though hectic and corrupt, in place. Ignoring the current Afghan role in any sort of peace talks will only cause the peace talks to face additional challenges.

The current Afghan government is beset with widespread corruption, and is too weak to shoulder the enormous burden of bringing peace to the country on its own. However, its complete marginalization in any sort of peace talks that affect Afghanistan will have long term negative consequences.

After Afghanistan was ignored by the international community and was left to the mercy of its neighbors in 1992, it became home to anarchy and a spawning ground for the terrorists from all over the world. I think leaving Afghanistan  in haste can lead to a1992 type situation again, when the country was in chaos, 60000 people were killed by the warring factions in Kabul, and thousands of people were forced to migrate to Iran and Pakistan.

The complex political and security situation in Afghanistan cries out for regional involvement.  All the national, regional, and international stakeholders, particularly Afghans, should be made part of the solution. Failure to ignore the interests of Afghans in any solution will only  exacerbate the situation not only for Afghans but also in the region and for the broader global community.

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