Will intra-Afghan dialogue bring peace to the Afghan people?

There are reports that the US will withdraw its forces from Afghanistan before the timeline. This will have bad consequences for the security of Afghanistan, the region, and the world, writes Mohamad Mosa Ahmadzai for South Asia Monitor

Mohamad Mosa Ahmadzai Jul 02, 2020

The US signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in Doha, the capital city of Qatar,  to bring an end to its long-running war in Afghanistan and achieve peace in the war-hit country. The negotiations were tough, as differences were there, and it took about two years to reach an agreement and for that the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad widely traveled to regional countries time and again to achieve regional consensus on Afghan peace. He held ten rounds of talks with the Taliban representatives. Despite, the odds, thanks to Khalilzad tireless efforts and sagacious diplomacy, regional countries supported the US to achieve peace in Afghanistan, and even sent their representatives to the ceremony, which was held during the singing of the peace agreement, in February this year.

Unfortunately, the US sidelined the Afghan government from the very beginning of the negotiations. The Afghan government complained regarding the US Taliban peace negotiations, but the US regardless of them reached an agreement with the Taliban. The US left the Afghan government unaware of the contents of the peace deal and it raised more concerns among the Afghan people. Afghans did not consider the peace deal to be in their favour because no one knew on what basis the peace deal was signed. Some parts of the agreement became clear when the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that there are secret annexes in the peace deal, but no one knew what those annexes were. It later became clear.

Lamentably, the Afghan government in the last 19 years was not able to eliminate corruption or make good use of the aid given to Afghanistan by the international community. The money went into the pockets of corrupt officials and not put to good use. As the US did not give any importance to the Afghan government - like not keeping it informed over the peace process or even discussing the details of the agreement - this created more suspicion and concern among the Afghan people as they thought the deal would push Afghanistan back to 1990 and once again they would witness civil war in Afghanistan.

National Reconciliation

The US-Taliban agreement stipulated the time for the intra-Afghan negotiations, but the talks were delayed due to political disputes within the Afghan government last September. After the announcement of the presidential election results, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah strongly opposed it and accused his rival team led by President Ashraf Ghani of fraud and rejected the result. The disputed election result paved the way for the electoral crisis, which took months to resolve. It was only on 17 May when Abdullah agreed to a compromise following increased international pressure and the threat of a US$1 billion cut in aid from the US. The compromise was: Ghani would remain as president, while Dr. Abdullah’s party would appoint half of the cabinet ministers and he would lead the peace process with the Taliban. Abdullah accepted the role as Chairman of the High Council of National Reconciliation, which includes overseeing the 21-member Afghan government negotiating team, representing all political, civil society, and tribal elements of Afghan society.

This political crisis further delayed the intra-Afghan dialogue and put the US-Taliban agreement into risk. Lack of consensus and differences within the Afghan government and politicians over the official negotiating delegation for peace talks with the Taliban also created further hurdles in the agreement. The problem also arose as each Afghan politician wanted to have more of a say in the peace talks.

On the other hand, the Taliban, which was to exercise maximum restraint and reduce violence, however, intensified their attacks on the government forces and on civilians after signing the agreement. Every day Afghans are losing their lives to the conflict, while the US forces are safely stationed in their bases. Now, the Taliban are not attacking them as per the conditions of the peace accord. 

What was imperative for the Afghan government was to form a negotiating team as soon as possible for the intra-Afghan dialogue, but that did not happen. So the Taliban did not reduce the violence and in fact, a rise in attacks against the government troops was witnessed. The only time the attacks ceased was when the Taliban announced on May 23  a ceasefire with the Afghan government during the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday.

US must not withdraw in haste 

The international community, particularly the US, helped the Afghan government and the Taliban to accelerate their efforts for peace talks and enter into intra-Afghan dialogue. However, there are certain ‘elements’ in Afghanistan, who have tried to sabotage the peace process by killing religious leaders, conducting targeted killings, and attacking civilian facilities. No one has taken responsibility for these targeted killings and assassination, and the Taliban has rejected their involvement in the attacks. 

Now a good chance has been created for peace and all sides must seize this opportunity for achieving everlasting peace in Afghanistan. The formation of the negotiating team by the Afghan government finally for the intra-Afghan dialogue with the Taliban and the consensus among the Afghans over peace with the Taliban is a good omen for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. 

There are reports that the US will withdraw its forces from Afghanistan before the timeline. This will have bad consequences for the security of Afghanistan, the region, and the world. The US must leave Afghanistan responsibly by bringing peace to Afghanistan and should continue support to the Afghan government. Untimely withdrawal will threaten the security of the US as Afghanistan would turn into the safe haven of terrorists, who will plan and carry out attacks on US soil.

(The writer is ICCR Scholar and a columnist at Afghanistan Times based in Kabul. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at mosaahmadzai8@gmail.com)

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