Afghanistan’s Peace Progress
As ongoing direct talks between the United States and the Taliban further open the door for peace in Afghanistan, the country is facing ‘daunting challenges’ ahead of the presidential vote.
A series of civil wars in 1996 saw Kabul fall into the hands of the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged to end the country's civil war and anarchy. By 1998, the Taliban controlled 90% of the country, imposing harsh fundamentalist laws. The human rights abuses turned it into an international pariah. Only three countries—Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAR—recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Osama Bin Laden. But the Taliban continues to remain a serious challenge for the Afghan Government in almost every province. It considers itself the rightful government of Afghanistan and remains a capable and confident insurgent force fighting for the withdrawal of foreign military forces from Afghanistan, the establishment of sharia law, and rewriting of the Afghan constitution.
In 2018, US President Trump cut off security assistance to Pakistan for harbouring Taliban militants. Following this, negotiations between the US and Taliban led to the agreement that the US will withdraw troops while the Taliban would stop the operation of other jihadist groups in Afghanistan.
The UN Special Representative in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, hailed on-going efforts made towards peace and the engagement of women and youth across the country but warned the Security Council of challenges that remain.
“This year is likely to bring both numerous challenges and unprecedented opportunities,” said Mr. Yamamoto, briefing Council members on the latest report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security. “Addressing the challenges, and taking advantage of the opportunities, will require the concerted efforts of the international community, with Afghanistan in the lead”, he added.
Various talks aimed at ending years of conflict have taken place in past weeks, notably between the United States Government and senior Taliban officials, as well as some Afghan representatives and the militant group. “Despite such engagements, the Taliban have not yet accepted to engage in direct talks with the Government,” lamented Special Representative Yamamoto, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in the country, UNAMA. “I stress the imperative need for the Taliban to directly talk with the Government,” as “inclusiveness, coherence, and representativeness in negotiations are critical for success.” He went on to note that although a February meeting held in Moscow between representatives of the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban offered hope for better understanding, the latter have not yet accepted direct negotiations. Emphasizing the importance of acknowledging the concerns of citizens that the gains made over the last 18 years might be compromised, he said all segments of society — women, young people, ulema (Islamic scholars) and community and political leaders alike — must be involved.
Commending the efforts made by the Government to establish a “negotiating structure, including a negotiating team,” and a consultative assembly of traditional leaders, Mr Yamamoto insisted on the importance of ensuring all efforts towards peace are “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.”
Afghanistan is set to hold a presidential election later this year, a critical step in further consolidating the country’s representative political system. “The holding of the presidential election on schedule, however, will be very challenging,” noted Mr. Yamamoto, citing “widespread reports of irregularities during last October’s parliamentary elections”, and “increasing scepticism” towards the country’s two election commissions mandated with delivering “credible and timely” elections. With less than five months until election day, he warned that the remaining “technical and political challenges are daunting,” including the implementation of the new Election Law, along with the holding of three other elections (provincial council elections, district-council elections, and parliamentary elections for the province of Ghazni).
Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser, said the Government has accomplished “a tremendous amount” five years into the Decade of Transformation, despite the competing priorities of war, elections and drought, and considerable resistance from those benefiting from corrupt systems.
Our assessment is that the hardline Islamist movement considers the Afghan government as a puppet regime of the U.S. and has refused direct talks. We feel that ideally there should be no interference of foreign countries in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, but Pakistan is the protectors and guarantors of Taliban leadership. It can be noted that Pakistan has been involved in Afghanistan to protect its national security interests & will not relinquish. It will likely continue to view the Afghan Taliban as one of the country’s strategic assets.
India and the Ghani government continue to insist that there is no good Taliban and that the peace process should be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. The two countries, which used to be with India in opposing Taliban in the past, Russia and Iran, have moved on. The Russians now enjoy good relations with Pakistan and are already talking to the Taliban.