The people of Afghanistan are fed up. They want peace. Not war.
And they caught a tiny glimpse of what this might look like for their country. For over the Eid al-Fitr break, both the government of President Ghani and the Taliban called their own respective ceasefires. And the rest of the world was treated to images of national security forces and members of the Taliban sharing hugs and selfies.
This coincided with the arrival in Kabul of 65 peace activists; who had made the long and treacherous journey from across the country to the capital. That the band of merry men had initially comprised just eight underscores that Afghans do not welcome this never-ending war of someone else’s making. Those who marched for peace stress that they have no political leanings. Yet they do have a list of four simple demands: a ceasefire between government forces; peace talks between the two sides; implementation of a law mutually agreed upon by Kabul and the Taliban; and the withdrawal of foreign forces.
All of which means that Afghans from across the great divide are on the same page. For even Ghani has previously said that he envisages most international troops being able to leave by 2021; if not before. This leaves the US the odd man out when it comes to timetabling withdrawal. Sadly, this gives credence to collective fears — from Kabul to Islamabad to Tehran — that the American military presence is here to stay.
The great tragedy is that there was no need for the US to decimate Afghanistan. Not when the Taliban were willing to hand over Bin Laden; albeit it to a third country. Equally unfortunate is how Kabul soon became the intermittently forgotten war. For just two years in, Washington and London all but failed to recall the world’s most wanted man as they became consumed with a new agenda of overthrowing the Saddam regime in Iraq. And this has been a pattern repeated all too often; from Libya to Syria; to warmongering against Iran; to talking peace with North Korea. Kabul is left on the backburner.
The fallout of this apparent lack of focus has not only been to ignite the Middle East. It has also thrown up increasingly more violent extremist groups, such as ISIS, that have now established a presence within Afghanistan. Indeed, the latter claimed responsibility for one of the two suicide attacks that struck Jalalabad over the weekend; and that occurred as local officials and Taliban gathered together. This is of grave concern for the region. Particularly Pakistan. It also appears to be akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of the US. One that says that even though it may be a driving force of instability and bloodshed — it cannot get up and leave. That being said, it needs to give it a try. Not least because its military might has failed thus far to resolve the Afghan question.
Indeed, it is the only way to breathe life into all this talk of supporting an Afghan-led and -owned peace process. For if the US really does want to give peace a chance it will ultimately have to start listening to what the people of that country want. *
Published in Daily Times, June 19th 2018.