Hurdles to Afghan Peace: Pak still has foremost role to play

Internal makeup, history, and foreign involvement makes Afghanistan one of the most dangerous countries of the world. The recent peace efforts by US, Taliban and Afghan government are not enough to achieve sustainable peace. There are still numerous challenges that people of Afghanistan have to resolve, nonetheless, Pakistan will prove to be a key player.

Afghan Peace Deal

Since the US-Taliban peace deal many fearsome incidents took place on Afghan soil. Oath-taking of two presidents in one state, the deadlock over the prisoners’ release, the presence of hawks on key positions with deeply entrenched historic fault lines, the annoyed regional players and the presence of the Taliban who are up in arms, these are events which provide a clear signal of a looming Civil war in Afghanistan.

How sustainable was the Doha Peace Agreement?

The peace process settled by the Doha agreement is now under severe strain. This is because of divergences over numerous issues cited in the agreement combined with other issues which it failed to mention. These impediments are raising serious questions about peace in Afghanistan.

As a consequence of the Peace Deal, hopes were on the rife that the war-torn state, after four decades, was ready to embrace peace and stability. This was also desired by the Afghan people. Their long stretched sufferings seemed to reach an end for good. On the other side of the border, Pakistani people took a sigh of relief. They were suffering from devastating spillover effects of war since 1979, in terms of economic and human losses, Kalashnikov and heroine culture, along with a huge inflow of Afghan refugees.

Read more: How does the pandemic provide opportunity to speed up Afghan peace process?

In addition to these problems, India added fuel to the fire by resorting to incessant acts of proxy terrorism against Pakistan via Afghanistan. Initially, it did this under the patronage of the Soviet Union, later Northern Alliance and recently the United States.

The contending inauguration ceremonies of the Republic of Afghanistan displays the cracks and fissures in the ruling segments. They are trying desperately to reposition and adjust themselves in a way that ensures their grip on political power. The United States was indeed a cementing force, with its immense finances and military muscle. They provided a sense of cohesion, security, and legitimacy to the rulers.

On the other hand, the Taliban consider themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, who lost power as a consequence of the US invasion and are now gaining ground as a legitimate power through negotiations and militancy. They achieved all their objectives through the peace deal. They did not commit ceasefire but at least reduced the level of violence.

The deal got international legitimacy by means of a UNSC resolution 2513/2020. They received US commitment that Intra-Afghan dialogue would be conditioned to the release of five thousand Taliban prisoners, as a confidence-building measure.

Looming threat of a civil war

The relevant stakeholders inside Afghanistan have missed the March 10 deadline for the beginning of the intra-Afghan dialogue. This dialogue is aimed at concluding a lasting cease-fire and working out a power-sharing formula for future political system.

It is vital to note that it is only the first step in the right direction because the most difficult challenge is to find common ground between the Taliban and the Afghan government. However, a delay in intra-Afghan talks threatens the peace plan drawn out in Doha.

The fault lines among the players are too deep to mend. The existing political structure which is founded on constitutional democracy is opposed by the Taliban, who will not budge an inch from their concept of the Islamic Emirate. The difference in fundamental approaches may lead to a deadlock.

The historical ethnic rivalry Pashtun-Uzbek-Tajik, is another obstacle to overcome. They were fighting fiercely when 9/11 happened, until an all-out defeated Northern Alliance revived, captured Kabul and held political power, with the help of the US. The embitterment of long war years between the rivals is deep seated and will prove to be a major obstacle.

The political dynamics of Afghanistan is heavily influenced by the adversarial relations between Pakistan and India. India supported the Northern Alliance in its war with the Taliban in the 90s. Its relations with the Taliban were at the lowest ebb during their rule.

After the US invasion, India got the US-backed extensive outreach to Afghanistan. It remains heavily engaged in a proxy war against Pakistan from Afghan soil since the Soviet invasion.

Peace Agreement signed in Doha between the US and Taliban is certainly historic and a moral victory for Pakistan. New Delhi is bound to see it as a strategic debacle because it recognizes the Taliban as Pakistan’s proxy, and instrumental in overwhelming Pakistani influence at the expense of India’s. In this way, it will lose a Geo-strategic advantage over Pakistan from the West. Therefore, it outrageously opposed the US exit from Afghanistan. Understandably, it will react in its ways to undermine the peace process.

Read more: Afghan Peace Process uncertain as Kabul denies Taliban prisoner release

Iran supported the United States against the Taliban in the wake of the 9/11 invasion. It also used its sectarian assets inside Afghanistan against the Taliban. However, later, it revived its ties with the Taliban. Thus, the killing of Solemani pushed Iran closer to the Taliban, but yet again, the Doha Peace Deal upsets the revival of relations.

Despite reconciliation with the Taliban, Iran does not like a Deoband Sunni government of the Taliban in its neighborhood. Its desire that the US should engage with the fragile Ghani government instead of Taliban, is grounded in this ideological approach, however, it is counterproductive. In the future, Iran’s shared concerns with India might provide a basis for an alliance against the Taliban.

Daesh: Impediment in the way of peace

Besides annoyed regional states, the existence of Daesh in Afghanistan, is perhaps the most fearsome aspect. It poses a grave threat to the survival of the Taliban as well as the government in Kabul. The militant objectives of the Taliban are local and centered entirely on the withdrawal of foreign forces. They gave assurances to the US that they will not allow any terrorist group to use its soil against other countries.

In contrast, Daesh has an agenda of the Global Caliphate and they opposed the Taliban. Players like China, Russia, Pakistan and the United States encouraged the Taliban’s fight against this group. Daesh carried out a terrorist attack soon after the Doha agreement. Its members opened fire on a memorial ceremony in Kabul killing 32 people. Abdullah Abdullah who was also present at the occasion, fortunately escaped unharmed.

Therefore, peace in Afghanistan will remain elusive in the presence of Daesh which also has the backing of some regional states.

The long asserted demand of the Taliban was the withdrawal of foreign forces, which has been met in the Doha Peace Deal. A complete withdrawal will take place in fourteen months subject to the fulfillment of certain conditions: reduction in violence and a timely outcome of the intra-Afghan dialogue.

The Taliban‘s refusal to terminate attacks against Afghan security forces continue to be a major stumbling block in the way of intra-Afghan dialogue and the conclusion of a future political road-map for Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s role will be very crucial in the coming days. The prolonged delay in the intra-Afghan negotiation process might undo all efforts to end the war. Regionally, India and Iran may join hands to prevent Taliban from taking over Kabul. There will be negotiations between Taliban, Northern Alliance and Ashraf Ghani. It seems that they will conclude without any foreseeable output.

This can compel a reluctant US to slow down its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Afghan dilemma is attributed to internal rifts originating from the lack of national political unity and external players who are always ready to intervene. However, optimism suggests that political chaos should not lead to bloodshed.

Read more: US & Ghani is failing Afghan peace process

Dr. Naeem Mahboob Malik has done his Ph.D. from The Department of Political Science Baha Uddin Zakariya University, Multan. He is now visiting faculty in the same department. His research interests are international relations, strategic, security studies and comparative politics.

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