After a protracted dialogue between the US and Taliban, facilitated and supported by Pakistan, the two sides have confirmed reaching an agreement on a peace accord to be signed on February 29 in Doha, following a one-week partial truce.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remarked: “Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of [a] US-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward”. He added that negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government would start soon thereafter.
What he has said means that the signing of the accord is contingent upon holding of the week-long truce agreed between the two parties and soon after the signing of the accord the Taliban would be obliged to start negotiations with the Afghan government which, as implied in his statement, they have agreed to.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi talking to the media in Multan said that the treaty between the US and Taliban would be signed in the presence of Pakistan because it was quite impossible to deliver goods without Pakistan’s participation in the final agreement. He further revealed that Pakistan has launched efforts to constitute a large delegation to promote intra-Afghan dialogue after signing of the Accord.
Nobody in their right mind can take exception to what Shah Mahmood has said. Pakistan all along has been making strenuous efforts at bilateral and multilateral forums to convince both sides for engagement in dialogue to resolve the conflict and bringing the Taliban and the Afghan government to the negotiating table.
The likely accord between the US and the Taliban in fact is an enviable outcome of the efforts made by Pakistan, also supported by regional powers like Russia and China which have also been making relentless efforts on their level to promote intra-Afghan dialogue. It is a matter of great satisfaction for all the stakeholders that finally a ray of hope has emerged to end the eighteen-year-old war in Afghanistan and restoring normalcy in that war-ravaged country.
The agreement exhibits the seriousness of the Trump administration to end the conflict in Afghanistan and pulling out its troops from the country which has cost $45 billion annually to the US since its blitzkrieg in 2001 besides thousands of casualties of the US and allied forces. A similar sentiment on the part of the Taliban to ultimately find a negotiated solution to the continuing strife is also confirmed.
The US and the Taliban reaching an accord is a very positive and welcome development but the most important issue is successful dialogue and agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government on a number of key internal issues including ceasefire, formation of the new government and the firming up of the future political system before the US troops leave the country. The US pulling out of Afghanistan without the Taliban and the Afghan government reaching a consensus on that could easily push the country into a factional war with disastrous consequences.
The regional countries including Russia, China and Pakistan which have been affected by the conflict in Afghanistan and the phenomenon of terrorism in varying degree have rightly thrown their weight behind the process of settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government as a pre-requisite to resolving the Afghan conundrum, and made efforts to facilitate intra-Afghan dialogue.
A rare consensus on resolving the conflict peacefully, both inside and outside Afghanistan, has opened up a historic opportunity. The Taliban owe it to their countrymen to show flexibility and exhibit a visionary approach in resolving the internal conflict and evolving a future political setup that ensures permanent peace and harmony within the country.
It is pertinent to mention that the dynamics of the conflict in Afghanistan have changed dramatically in recent years. The majority of those killed and injured were Afghan civilians, police and Taliban fighters. Reliable sources believe that since 2014 more than 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed, while over the same period the number of foreigners killed stands at only 72.
UN sources say that civilian deaths reached a record high in 2018 and more than 32,000 civilians have been killed in the last decade. The tally of Afghan civilians killed during 2019 stands at 10,000. A large number of Taliban fighters have also regularly been killed in airstrikes, night raids and ground fighting. They were all Afghans. Re-integration of the Taliban with Afghan society therefore is pivotal to peace in Afghanistan. Though the process involves lot of complications due to the conflicting interests of different internal stakeholder, given the political will and commitment nothing is impossible.
Reaching agreements on resolving conflicts, as is evident by history, does not necessarily guarantee a peaceful end to them. Agreements are only the first step in that direction. The most important aspect is the implementation of the agreement. In the post-agreement era, the major challenge for Afghanistan would be the creation of verifiable enforcement mechanism. In view of the treacherous history of conflict in Afghanistan, there is a strong possibility that any agreement reached between the Taliban and the Afghan government could easily be derailed by any one of the players. This necessitates the role of international guarantors involving the regional powers for making sure that what is on paper is implemented in letter and spirit.
In my view, giving greater role to the regional powers including Russia, China and Pakistan in regard to ensuring implementation of the likely agreement would be very desirable as they have the biggest stakes in peace in Afghanistan as regional players which have ensured continued engagement with the Taliban for promoting intra-Afghan dialogue.
In the event of peace returning to Afghanistan as envisioned, Afghanistan would require a massive international effort to rebuild its destroyed infrastructure and towards a sustained development process. Although the regional countries, including China, Russia and Pakistan, have been investing in the development of infrastructure in Afghanistan and surely would also be forthcoming in the post-accord period, the greater onus has to be shared by the US. Helping Afghanistan in that regard would mean strengthening peace in that country which is the ultimate aim of all the stakeholders.
The writer is a freelancecontributor.