A chronic conflict such as Afghanistan requires four mutually reinforcing pillars: A legitimate/inclusive political process in Kabul; a cooperative/coerced Pakistan; sound military power and supporting regional environment. In the absence of such a multi-pronged strategy, ad hoc talks with the Taliban* would only compound the crisis.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani declared a ceasefire with the Taliban from the 27 of the Fasting month to the end of the Eid festival. Ghani’s move should be located in the context of his peace offer to the Taliban at the Kabul II Conference last February, which included a political framework consisting of a ceasefire. While the Taliban did not respond clearly to Ghani’s peace offer, they reciprocated by announcing a ceasefire for only the three days of Eid.
The ceasefire could act as a trust and confidence-building measure for both parties. It would allow the parties to initiate and/or intensify the back channel contacts and the pre-negotiation steps. At the same time, it has been received with a varied reaction of antipathy, disappointment, and appreciation by the public. The mutual ceasefire during the Eid was observed as a psychological relief by the common people who were fed up of prolonged conflict. However, for the pro-peace constituency it was appeasement of a terrorist group which does not adhere to any basic fundamental humane values.
This constituency considers Ghani’s efforts for integrating the Taliban as an ethno-nationalist agenda. Ghani has marginalized the non-Ghalzais and systematically embarked on assimilationist, exclusionary and narrow ethnic agenda.
Accommodating the Taliban will not assure the reduction in the scale and scope of violence, however, it will qualify their bigotry, religious fundamentalism, and fanaticism as “normal.” The constant efforts to present the Taliban and their deeds as “normal” result from the aspiration of ethno-nationalist Pashtuns/Afghans to bring the Taliban into the mainstream.
The last forty of years of the conflict in Afghanistan validates the fact that without addressing the conflict through grass-roots peacebuilding measures, establishing a broad-based, multicultural and inclusive state and good governance, no lasting peace is possible. Looking back at the history, one finds a long list of ceasefires between the insurgents and the Kabul administration at different stages, which did not lead to a sustainable peace. It consists of the following:
1. A number of Mujahideen commanders, for instance, the legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Masoud reached a ceasefire arrangement with the Soviet troops and the Communist administration in Kabul in the 1980s;
2. President Najibullah declared unilateral ceasefire on 15 January 1985;
3. Javier Perez, Secretary-General of the United Nations proposed a UN-monitored ceasefire in his five-point declaration on 7 November 1990;
4. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar signed several ceasefire agreements with the transitional government of Mujahideen, particularly President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Defence Minister Masoud respectively on 21 May 1992, 17 September 1992 and 24 November 1993;
5. The Islamabad Agreement, mediated by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan was signed in March 1993 by all the Mujahideen leaders, who agreed upon an immediate ceasefire;
6. The Tashkent declaration in July 1999, by the initiative of the President of Uzbekistan, was supported by the Taliban and the government of President Rabbani.
So far, the Taliban has traditionally followed a win-lose strategy against all governments including Presidents Rabbani, Karzai, and the current National Unity Government (NUG).
President Ghani has also followed a mix of informal accommodation and containment policies against the Taliban. In the framework of containment, the government accepts the Taliban presence within a certain ill-defined area, but uses force against them only when it becomes threatening to the government such as in case of fall of the provincial capitals. At the same time, Ghani has tried to reach some sort of informal accommodation through power-sharing with the Taliban as he had done with Hekmatyar.
Lasting peace is utmost important, but the possibility of peace with the Taliban resulting in probable re-election of Ghani will make his bigotry and ethnocracy a “new normal.” We should resist normalization of both Ghani’s demagogy, ethnocracy, and racism as well as the Taliban’s religious fundamentalism, bigotry and fanaticism.
What instead is proposed is strong-state repression of terrorists and the criminal networks of the Taliban but at the same time, broadening the political basis and legitimacy of the government through fair adherence to the NUG Agreement (which Ghani has systematically violated), commitment to a free and fair election and most importantly dismantling the exclusionary ethnocracy.
A chronic conflict such as Afghanistan requires four mutually reinforcing pillars: A legitimate/inclusive political process in Kabul; a cooperative/coerced Pakistan; sound military power and supporting regional environment. In the absence of such a multi-pronged strategy, ad hoc talks with the Taliban would only compound the crisis.
*Banned in Russia by court order