The reports of a peace agreement between the Taliban and the US have created a ripple of excitement among the hapless Afghan people who have witnessed nothing but death and destruction in the last four decades.
The possible deal between the militant outfit and Washington is likely to be signed on Feb 29. Both parties have agreed to reduce violence for seven days before the signing of the deal.
For the first time in several years, Afghan soil witnessed the cool breeze of peace and calm, prompting many jubilant Afghans to greet the occasion with dance and song. It has brought smiles and comfort to the dejected souls that had forgotten to express their joy.
It seems that the pernicious tentacles of despair and hopelessness have given way to hope and optimism. All sides to the conflict played an important role in turning this dream of peace into a reality. Pakistan invested its energies in ensuring the success of the talks between Washington and the extremist group that was known for its recalcitrant attitude and retrogressive ideology.
Once a cloistered group of reclusive Taliban commanders, the outfit will achieve international legitimacy. The Taliban will have to mend their ways. They will have to give up their orthodoxy, and respect international norms. The rights of women, minorities and vulnerable sections of society must be guarded.
Gone are the days of whipping up women publicly or forcing minorities to put on a certain type of dress. No ban on girls’ education will be tolerated by the international community. Force in religious matters will not be acceptable to any Afghan nor will it have any space in present-day Afghan society that has witnessed a mushrooming of new cities and towns. If the promises of peace are kept by all sides, Kabul may also get substantial aid which might go some way in the reconstruction of the devastated country. Rapid progress and economic development are key to make this deal effective.
The Afghan government and the dominant elements inside the Afghan state from the northern areas will also have to forget the past and move forward. Any divisive politics will only harm the country. There are still ethnic and sectarian fault-lines in Afghan society.
In the past, Afghan politicians have exploited these lines for their vested interests, turning the country into an arena of war lords which in reality spawned the Taliban movement.
Afghan politicians should devise a mechanism that allows all ethnic and minority groups to thrive. The majoritarianism of one ethnic entity should be rejected but the marginalisation of the majority nation should also be avoided. The Afghan state structure should reflect the true representation of all ethnic and sectarian entities. Those who do not have adequate representation in the army and bureaucracy should be encouraged to catch up with other nationalities.
In the past, the Taliban have used their triumph as a licence to shelter all jihadis and sectarian militants. Not only did the Al-Qaeda turn one of the poorest countries in the world into its abode but the leaders of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other extremist groups from Central Asia and elsewhere also sought refuge there which not only alarmed neighbouring China and Russia but Islamabad as well.
At one point, the Taliban even refused to kick out sectarian terrorists who played havoc with us during the decade of 1990s. It is expected that the promises made by the Taliban regarding disallowing Afghan soil to be used against any country would solemnly be kept. The Taliban should remember that there is discontent among the religious minorities living in China and Russia. Some Western countries might try to exploit this unrest to create problems for Moscow and Beijing.
Pro-Moscow regimes in Central Asia have more or less crushed extremist groups. Such groups in the past looked to the Taliban for inspiration and some of them also sought refuge on Afghan soil during the reign of the retrogressive outfit. The saner elements in the Taliban should ensure that these external groups do not make any way inside Afghanistan which has already suffered a lot because of such extremist organisations. Afghanistan should also refuse to become a party to an America-Iran possible show-down.
The neighbouring countries of Afghanistan have also a responsibility towards the devastated state. It is incorrect to lay all the blame on the doors of the Afghans for the misfortune that befell on them. The hegemonic designs of the neighbouring states also contributed to the plight of the Afghan masses. The concept of strategic depth advocated by some in Pakistan and the plan of New Delhi to access Central Asia by instilling a non-Pashtun puppet government in Kabul wreaked havoc with the Afghan people.
Pak-India rivalry damaged Afghanistan during the cold war and it also proved to be lethal during the decade of the 1990s. The interference from Tehran, Russia and Central Asia also did not do any good to Kabul except encouraging various war lords to continue to spill the blood of innocent people. Such policies boomeranged on the architects of this devastating design.
Pakistan got its own version of the Pakistani Taliban that waged a relentless war against the state, pushing more than 30,000 people towards death and destruction besides unleashing a reign of terror that Islamabad fought with sweat and blood.
The unrest in Afghanistan also encouraged extremist elements to create problems for Tehran while Central Asian states also found themselves surrounded by a number of extremist groups. So, this policy of interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan turned out to be detrimental for all the states of the region. Therefore, it is important that all the states remain neutral and help the Afghan people rebuild their country and emerge as a prosperous nation in the coming years.
Afghanistan has suffered a lot because of the four decades of war and conflict. More than one million people lost their lives. Millions others were wounded or maimed. The conflict created one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes in recent decades.
More than three million Afghans are still living on foreign soil. After all this destruction, the country deserves peace and reconstruction. Afghanistan’s economy is already crumbling. Its financial constraints could turn into a nightmare if a helping hand is not extended by the West and other industrial countries.
Many believe that the US has a greater responsibility to rebuild the country. After all, it unnecessarily rained the hapless state with bombs and missiles, destroying whatever meagre infrastructure the country had. The war-torn country needs a Marshall Plan. The West and other industrial countries should come up with a huge financial package.
Reconstruction should not be delayed. It is feared that the isolationist policy of Trump might consign Afghanistan to the dustbin of history. There is a fear that the Americans might stop pouring money into the country. The spectre of non-payment of salaries is haunting not only the Afghan National Army but other employees of the state too. The US and its allies must ensure that these payments are made for a number years. In case of non-payment, the state structure that the US took years to build could crumble.
China is grappling with the situation that arose in the aftermath of the coronavirus’ outbreak but as soon as the situation is normal in the communist country, the second biggest economy should generously contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Unrest here would greatly affect China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Afghanistan is brimming with natural resources that can greatly help Beijing if it ensures its share in the speedy reconstruction of the country.
To cut a long story short, if all stakeholders, the US and regional countries behave in a responsible way, there is no reason to believe that Afghanistan could not emerge as a peaceful and prosperous country in the coming years. Peace will be the greatest respite for the people of this ancient state.
The writer is a freelance journalist.