THE hopes kindled by the US-Taliban Agreement in February 2020 and subsequent commencement of intra-Afghan dialogue on 12 September to end the two decade old conflict in Afghanistan, still remain unfulfilled. The Taliban and the Afghan Government have not yet been able to discuss the substantive issues concerning future political structure in Afghanistan and restoring peace except agreeing on the modalities to continue the dialogue. No doubt the continuation of the dialogue in itself is a positive development but the progress is dismally slow. While two sides are engaged in a dialogue at Doha, violence in Afghanistan continues unabated. It is a situation of talking peace while making war which is hardly conducive to any positive outcome of peace talks.
I think for the peace talks to move forward it is imperative to agree on a ceasefire because if the fighting continues it could lead to derailment of the dialogue and adding complexity to the already volatile situation. It is pertinent to point out that in the US-Taliban agreement the two sides agreed on a temporary reduction in violence and reiterated that a lasting cease-fire among US, Taliban and Afghan forces will be part of intra-Afghan negotiations. History testifies to the fact that all conflicts and wars ended through dialogue between the warring parties or through multilateral efforts preceded by cessation of hostilities. The situation in Afghanistan is very complex and there is also no dearth of elements which are out to sabotage this peace process. It is therefore incumbent upon the Taliban and the Afghan Government to not only guard against such attempts but also exhibit real leadership in ending the crisis and giving peace to the Afghan people. It is a historic opportunity for them to end the plight of the Afghan people. History will not forgive them if they fritter away this chance. It is now or never situation. They need to act sensibly and with utmost sincerity of purpose.
Peace in Afghanistan is linked to regional peace and shared economic prosperity. All the regional stakeholders including Pakistan have been contributing towards peace efforts between the Taliban and US as well as encouraging intra-Afghan dialogue to find an Afghan owned and Afghan-led solution to the conflict. Pakistan has played a leading role in this regard and it continues to strive for the success of the intra-Afghan dialogue with utmost sincerity and unfaltering commitment. This point was reiterated by Prime Minister Imran Khan while talking to the delegation representing Doha-based Political Commission of Taliban led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, by saying that Pakistan wished success of the dialogue and would continue to support it. He also reiterated the desirability and need for peace in Afghanistan saying that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. One can hardly take exception to what he said. It is pertinent to point out that Pakistan has not only played a role in bringing Taliban and US to the negotiating table and facilitating intra-Afghan dialogue but it has also made strenuous and sincere efforts to erase the ambience of mistrust between it and the Afghan Government which unfortunately always looked askance at efforts made by Pakistan in this regard. Now that those efforts have succeeded in setting the ball rolling, Pakistan would very much like to see a positive outcome in the shape of reconciliation in Afghanistan. The visit of the Taliban delegation at this moment is of great significance. It is hoped that as a result of the discussions that took place between them and the Pakistani leadership things will start falling in place and give further impetus to the dialogue process. Apart from the regional countries US is also striving for implementation of the peace deal with Taliban and the success of intra-Afghan dialogue which would facilitate US exit from Afghanistan as planned. The elections in US have ended the Trump era and it is not sure whether the Biden Administration would stick to the deal with the Taliban or change plans about pulling out the US and NATO troops completely. The policy by the new administration if different from the Trump Administration could also affect the progress in the intra-Afghan dialogue. Therefore it would be in the interest of Afghanistan and the internal stakeholders to conclude their dialogue before the new President takes oath.
The Taliban must agree to a ceasefire to facilitate the success of the dialogue. They must realize that it were mostly the Afghan people who have been and continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Afghanistan. More than 157,000 people have died in the war since 2001, according to researchers for the Costs of War Project at Brown University. More than 43,000 civilians have died, and by 2018 there were almost 2.5 million Afghan refugees worldwide, according to the UN refugee agency. Analysts estimate that about 45,000 Afghan troops and police officers have been killed in the past five years. Tens of thousands of Taliban fighters are also believed to have been killed since 2001. Therefore the Taliban and the Afghan Government owe it to their people to let them live in peace. There is no doubt that discussing and reaching an agreement on sharing power, disarming and reintegration of Taliban into society, determining the future of the country’s democratic institutions and constitution and overcoming the ethnic, sectarian and tribal differences form a challenging undertaking for the negotiating parties but given the will and determination to restore peace in Afghanistan, nothing is impossible.
— The writer is former Director Administration, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, based in Islamabad.