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Why US liberal peace approach would not work for Afghanistan

Musa Khan Khattak, who is an M.Phil. Scholar at NDU, thinks that US' liberal peace approach is not a workable strategy for Afghanistan. It will not bring any peaceful change, in fact, it is possible that Afghanistan will return to its previous conditions of the Taliban rule after US withdrawal.

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The proposed and imposed mode of Liberal Peace Building in Afghanistan is not a workable solution. Despite denying its failures, Washington seems to have realized that Afghanistan is a graveyard for empires. In the previous century, the Soviet Union tried to invade Afghanistan to enter warm waters but failed even after trying for almost a decade.

In the present century, the United States has taken two decades – under four different presidents in office – but has failed to achieve any concrete results and can hardly justify its presence on the ground.

In 2018, during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the United States, former President Donald Trump said that it was time to leave Afghanistan as they are only acting like Policemen. Due to vested interests, the US decided to prolong its stay in Afghanistan despite eliminating its prime target Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Read more: US Army will not Serve as Law Enforcement: Trump seeks Withdrawal from Afghanistan

After the two wars, Afghanistan is devastated and is an entirely dysfunctional state. This fact is realized by all the actors involved, foreign and local. The Afghan state is chained in a blend of different social, political, economic, ethnic, and religious conflicts which are a result of foreign intervention and local fault lines.

The US at the present moment is trying to leave Afghanistan but its strategy is not workable and not likely to bring any peaceful change. The US-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani is not in a position to subjugate the Taliban.

In fact, the Taliban is the most dominant force in Afghanistan after the US and they forced the US to hold talks with them and overlook its policy of non-negotiations with terrorists. Thus, the US came with its peace deal which is Liberal by its values and in the larger spectrum part of the Liberal Order.

Read more: Biden’s foreign policy agenda and the new world order

Criticisms of liberal peace-building approach

It is far beyond comprehension for traditional society to accept liberal values within its traditional space. Democracy and its values alone cannot serve as a peace factor in Afghanistan.

In April, President Ashraf Ghani came up with a three-phase road map for peace but his proposal has not resulted in any meaningful exchange between the concerned actors so far. Presidential elections in Afghanistan cannot bring any change unless there is an agreement between parties.

Many warring parties are contesting for power and amongst them, the Taliban have repeatedly pressurized the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. They blame foreign presence for the repeated attacks in the country and the loss of human lives.

Read more: Taliban blames US, Afghan forces for most civilian casualties in 2018

Foreign intervention is one of the most significant characters of Liberal Peace. It is driven by external actors who are considered political and benevolent. In the case of Afghanistan, there are no political actors rather the matter is politically internationalized.

Withdrawal from Afghanistan is one of the factors, but the US is never going to end its involvement in Afghanistan even after it leaves. As the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken said, we might leave Afghanistan, but we will be in the game. So, it is clear that the US will indirectly engineer the security and political dynamics of Afghanistan.

The liberal peace-building approach is about carrying out interventions to reduce the risk of returning back to war but scholars have criticized because those who apply this approach fail to take into account local conditions and appropriately engage local stakeholders.

Read more: Blinken defends US withdrawal, says terror threat has ‘moved’ from Afghanistan

While Afghanistan is in the perils of war, no external force seems capable of turning the fortunes of Afghans. The present Afghan government may be in favor, but a big majority wants the US to leave Afghanistan for good.

Will Afghanistan return to its previous state?

Another assumption of the Liberal peace approach resides in the conflation of democracy in the social and political domain with elections. It is an attempt to build state institutions in those countries that are socially and politically divided and are conflict-prone.

Illiberal societies which have been ruled by authoritarian regimes are more likely to return to their previous state. They will always be ruled by the most powerful force on the ground. The Taliban in majority belong to the Pashtun ethnicity and the most dominant ethnic group by population in Afghanistan is Pashtun. Even if elections take place there will be more Pashtun representatives which will in return overrule the peace and warring parties will rise for a share in the government.

Read more: PTM: Pro-Pashtun or pro-Afghanistan?

The US-Taliban negotiations have repeatedly failed and have resulted in deadly backlashes. Talks have resumed but no progress has been made so far. The situation for ordinary Afghans is probably worse than before and with slim prospects of a ceasefire.

The Taliban’s primary goal is gaining back control of Afghanistan once the US leaves. The day the US leaves, Afghanistan will most likely return to its previous conditions of the Taliban rule pre 9/11. Despite two decades and thousands of casualties, the US intervention has failed in building any institutions that can guarantee peace in the near future.

Read more: Will Taliban continue their reign of terror after US exit?

The writer is an M.Phil. Scholar at National Defence University, Islamabad. He can be contacted at ktk.musa93@gmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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