WAR-TORN Afghanistan is on its way to bring peace to the country. Ironically, due to prolonged presence of foreign forces, the country has literally twisted between different strategic perspectives of regional and global stakeholders. Afghanistan security dynamics are not easy to be addressed in a day. After 9/11 security challenges in Afghanistan are not only a matter of concern for its neighbours but for others too, because of continuous proxy war.
With the efforts to bring in peace in the past many options were introduced and Pakistan and other regional powers played their key role in facilitating the struggles for peace restoration. Somehow or the other, it was very challenging to bring key stakeholders on dialogue table as both Afghan Government and Afghan Taliban had different approaches and demands for each other. Recently held were peace talks in Doha, Qatar which restarted after the gap of six months as initially scheduled talks in March 2020 were delayed because of no consensus on the prisoner’s exchange. The agenda for this peace talk was finding ways for permanent ceasefire and guaranteeing political stability in Afghanistan while also ensuring ways to bring social equality and peaceful growing opportunities to its citizens. A deal was signed between US and Taliban where the Afghan government had to release 5000 Taliban prisoners in return to release of 1000 government troops. France and Australia objected to freeing six of the Taliban prisoners who were involved in the killing of their nationals. Taliban and Afghan government later reached a compromise by sending the six prisoners to Qatar. Exchange was done and later peace talks between the Afghanistan Government and the Taliban opened in Qatar’s capital. Key speakers at the opening ceremony held in Doha, on the 12th of September, 2020 included Abdullah Abdullah, Chairperson of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Taliban Deputy Leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
While the Afghan stakeholders were provided a historic chance to end two decades long war in which almost 160,000 people had lost their life, Abdullah Abdullah proposed to work with sincerity for peace and asked for “humanitarian ceasefire” on an urgent basis. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar repeated the Taliban’s demand for the country to adopt an “Islamic system” and mentioned that Taliban want Afghanistan to be an independent, developed country, and it should have a form of Islamic system, where all its citizens see themselves reflected. Mike Pompeo, while speaking at peace talks said that Afghan sides have the choice of their future political system and it is an opportunity for them to seek long term peace. Apart from opportunity it is their responsibility for their own nation and entire world wants them to succeed in these talks. Qatari Foreign Minister when started the proceedings of talks, stressed on all Afghan stakeholders that they must rise above all form of division, by reaching an agreement on the basis of no victor and no vanquished.
US Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said that although these talks bring a lot of hope to end war in the country but it is very challenging at the same time as it is new phase of diplomacy for peace in Afghanistan, as negotiations are important achievement yet reaching to an agreement has many defies. Pakistan has always played a very positive and crucial role for these talks and its role is always acknowledged by all stakeholders. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in his message said that Pakistan has been holding the stance that Afghan issue could not be resolved through use of force and it is welcoming that the world is now accepting Pakistan’s stance. However he urged international community to play its due role to take the peace process to its logical conclusion. He said the mistakes of the past should not be repeated so that dream of peace in Afghanistan is materialized.
What is different in these intra-Afghan talks is the participation of women in it. Women in Afghanistan have suffered badly and deprived of their basic rights in these 20 years of war. They demand equal rights for education and repeatedly ask to end gender biasedness. The Afghan negotiating team included five female representatives who have carried the responsibility of defending and protecting women’s rights during the talks. However the Afghan Government backs the current democratic political system, while the Taliban wants to impose its version of Islamic law as the country’s system of governance. In the past, rigid decisions were made by Taliban in which girls were banned from attending school, working, taking part in politics or even leaving their homes without a male family member.
Intra-Afghan talks have provided another opportunity to people of Afghanistan, though many tasks ahead. But seeing it as an inclusive process hopes are high, if it is considered as good political opportunity for Taliban, it is also a corridor for Afghan Government to strengthen democratic roots for the country. Wars are never a solution to peace, but considering this dialogue process as a prospect not to continue on military muscle from both sides, it is step to move forward without confusion. To make it a win-win situation, responsibility lies on key Afghan stakeholders and initiators of war to fulfil their promises.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.