Intra-Afghan Dialogue: The real path to peace

After the US-Taleban peace deal which was signed on Feb 29, 2020; the main obstacle in establishing peace in Afghanistan is the Intra-Afghan dialogue. Is the current political set up in Afghanistan able to reach an agreeable solution despite the fact that two presidents have taken oath as the state heads?

afghan

Maryyum Masood/Sabeen Malik |

For the Afghans, the “endless war” has lasted for more than 40 years, beginning with the communist coup of 1978, the Soviet invasion of 1979, and the ensuing 1990s civil war that culminated in the Taliban government and then US led war to topple the Taliban from power.

After more than a year and half of negotiations, the United States and the Taleban on February 29, 2020, signed an agreement paving the way for an end to America’s longest war.

Beyond withdrawal of US troops and control of terrorism within Afghanistan, the peace deal also binds the Taliban to begin the second and more important phase of Afghan Peace process, the Intra-Afghan Dialogue, by March 10 which will include the Afghan political and civil society leaders as well as the Afghan government.

As a pre-requisite to talks, the US-Taliban agreement covers the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners which are held by the Afghan government and 1000 government prisoners held by Taliban.

Without a ceasefire and wider peace deal that provides space for Taliban and other ethno-political forces into Afghanistan’s political system, there is a risk that Afghanistan may once again be mired into political chaos

However, President Ashraf Ghani rejected this arrangement as a precondition for direct talks. Subsequently, the day after the peace deal was signed, the Taliban resumed attacks against Afghan army and police forces.

The Intra-Afghan negotiations are central to the US-Taliban Peace Agreement and to whole peace process in Afghanistan because security guarantees will be of no value unless the Afghan political, differences underlying the conflict, are efficiently tackled.

Without a ceasefire and wider peace deal that provides space for Taliban and other ethno-political forces into Afghanistan’s political system, there is a risk that Afghanistan may once again be mired into political chaos.

Read more: Is Pakistan Ready to take Blow-back from Afghan Peace Process if it Fails?

Such a situation could possibly render the United States and the Taliban’s counterterrorism and security guarantees worthless.

Signing the US-Taliban Peace deal is not equivalent to Afghanistan’s internal peace. Afghan peace process hinges on two factors.

First, understanding among political forces within Afghanistan on a common political framework for power-sharing, and the presence or absence of foreign troops on Afghan soil.

Although it is the only path leading to lasting peace, Intra-Afghan negotiations, on the sharing of power, will be fraught for various reasons. First, these discussions will require engagement on principles, including deeply held beliefs about the nature of the Islamic government and democracy and on centralized state system.

It is not easy to find common ground between those in the government, the Taliban and other factions. Achieving sustainable peace and power-sharing may take years

These discussions will essentially revolve not only around the role of outsiders in Afghanistan but also the individual’s rights as well as the ethnic and regional divisions within the country.

At the same time, the negotiations will be weighted with many practical consequences because of large number of actors who may have to share power.

It is not easy to find common ground between those in the government, the Taliban and other factions. Achieving sustainable peace and power-sharing may take years.

There are apprehensions in the meantime that, the Taliban may not give up violence, which remains their principle leverage, for achieving objective they have fought for, all those years.

A successful and sustainable outcome of Intra-Afghan negotiations will require an approach that achieves several things: identifying underlying interests, opportunities for engagement that take into account of sacrifice and achievement of various groups; and carefully articulating the consequences of the arrangements for the future.

Read more: Opinion: Forty years of Afghan Refugees: Effects on Pakistan & their repatriation

On the list of complex issues regarding power-sharing negotiations, the foremost would be the future form of government in Afghanistan. The real challenge would be to create a shared view of power-sharing.

The Afghan government and the Taliban have different views. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaheef, Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan before the US invasion of Afghanistan, in an interview with the Independent Urdu, said that the Taliban had not yet stepped back from the stance of “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.

Instead, the US has agreed to our terms. He added that the Taliban have not abandoned their “Islamic Emirate”. Taliban are not liable to accept any other political dispensation, including the incumbent Ashraf Ghani government.

Pertinent to mention here is that he stressed that the Taliban will start a dialogue with the “Afghans” and not with the “Afghan Government”.

While some ethno-factional groups such as Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras want much more regional and provincial autonomy, with elected governors and controlled policing, taxation, resources and the provincial judiciary

Secondly, Afghanistan’s highly centralized presidential system reinforces the sense of winner-take-all power in a diverse and atomized polity. Significant efforts have been made, in the last 18 years to achieve political stability.

These include national, geographical and political balance through the appointment of vice presidents, ministers, governors, national unity government and other arrangement.

However, lack of formal mechanisms for sharing of power, centralized control across the country and the lack of rigorous constitutional check and balance (such as on the president’s decree power) for example; delayed elections, absence of judicial independence etc., became the greatest stumbling block in the success of any such effort.

Thirdly, there is an extensive range of views on sub-national governance in Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani supports the current strong centralized system of government and wants to further strengthen it.

While some ethno-factional groups such as Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras want much more regional and provincial autonomy, with elected governors and controlled policing, taxation, resources and the provincial judiciary.

Read more: Afghanistan at the Brink of Peace: Will Taliban & US come to a Deal?

However, other factions want a limited decentralization, recognizing that local capacity and resources are scarce. The existing state of divided security control, the intense cultural segregation between urban and rural areas, armed ethnic divisions and regional economies mean that decentralization, as well as center-periphery tensions, will remain.

In the context of Intra-Afghan negotiations, it would make sense to seek solutions that maintain Afghanistan’s unity but exercise more power at a sub-national level, where political groups can form provincial governments in the areas, they have influence.

The fourth and most critical issue in Afghanistan is of women’s rights. The rights of women to take part in politics, legislative processes and other professional fields should also be taken into consideration while power-sharing.

The division of government power will directly affect women and the course of policymaking. In the past, the Taliban had banned women’s education and their right to work. While recently, Siraj Uddin Haqqani in his article, ‘What we, the Taliban, Want’, published in the New York Times wrote that the Taliban were now flexible in giving women their right to work and education.

While there is a possibility that the parties would agree on a formula for women’s rights, it is still unclear that who has the power to interpret the exercise of those rights and whether women will be given the right to take part in legislative processes?

The second obstacle would be that the parties may insist on ensuring inclusion of their approach to the form of government or fundamental rights even in the frame-work for the interim period

One possible solution to the issues of power-sharing could be the formation of interim arrangements that can share powers in the short term while the constitution, demobilization, and other long-term issues could be negotiated.

It may take 18 to 36 months to address the complex issues of power-sharing, women’s rights, and sub-national governance. The first and the major impediment would be whether the Intra-Afghan Dialogue parties would agree to form an interim government to replace the existing one.

The second obstacle would be that the parties may insist on ensuring inclusion of their approach to the form of government or fundamental rights even in the framework for the interim period.

Read more: Finally, US and Afghan Taliban sign a ceasefire

The uncertainty over the Intra-Afghan negotiations may trigger further complexities that could lead to the worsening of the situation in an already war-torn country.

Intra-Afghan Dialogue if pursued with sincerity for achieving internal stability in Afghanistan, seems to be a narrow but feasible path.

Maryyum Masood, Assistant Research & Program Coordinator, Center for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad.

Sabeen Malik, Research Assistant, Center for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

blank