Saturday, 29 February 2020

Afghan government deserves credit for planting the seeds of peace

Negotiators from the Taliban and the Afghan government must build on the achievements of the past two decades.

KABUL, Afghanistan - The momentum is building towards peace in Afghanistan.

On Saturday, the United States and the Taliban will sign an agreement that will pave the way for talks between the Taliban and a team of negotiators led by the Afghan government in March. There is hope, finally, of a respite from the long war.

The Afghan government deserves credit for planting the seeds of peace two years ago by offering unconditional talks to the Taliban and announcing a unilateral ceasefire that became a three-day pause in hostilities in June 2018.

Kabul continued to communicate with the Taliban and sent some officials in July to an informal peace dialogue in Doha that brought the conflicting parties together for the first time. In February, the government of Afghanistan agreed to stop its operations against the Taliban for seven days to facilitate the first formal negotiations between Kabul and the insurgents. The Afghan government and US forces complied with the agreement. There were reports of several Taliban attacks against Afghan civilians and security forces, but the violence certainly declined during this period.

Negotiations between an inclusive team led by the Afghan government with the Taliban offer us a historic opportunity to end the war. If these talks are going to achieve peace, both the Afghan government and the Taliban urgently need to think more clearly about their upcoming talks and what they consider the possible outcomes.

In October, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan published a plan articulating his vision for peace. He outlined the steps for peace from the talks with the United States and NATO on the withdrawal of their forces and a subsequent anti-terrorism framework. The plan includes the creation of an inclusive Afghan team to negotiate with the Taliban and speak with regional and global partners to ensure national security and cooperation to develop the Afghan economy in the "post-peace agreement" Afghanistan.

President Ghani also presented the way to resolve long-term local complaints caused by feelings of exclusion from political processes or low levels of accessibility to law enforcement and justice. In addition, the plan aims to strengthen national public institutions to maintain order and provide essential services to people.

But the Taliban have shown a deep and worrying lack of clarity, and their intentions remain inscrutable. They insist that they want the violence to stop, but they agreed only to a seven-day "reduction of violence" and refuse to accept a ceasefire until after the official peace negotiations, whose parameters remain undefined.

The Taliban have also been extremely vague about their proposed policies on human rights, the Afghan government's relationship with its people and the future of relations between Kabul and the world.

The details are absolutely crucial. The Taliban have talked about agreeing with human rights based on Islamic law. Will your interpretation align with the positions of its founder Mullah Omar, or will it align with something that progressive scholars of Islam would approve? They are completely silent about this.

The Taliban say their proposed governance system is one that is "based on consensus among people." But they have not clarified whether they agree that all older men and women have the right to vote and if they would accept peaceful transitions of power based on free elections through secret ballots.

The insurgents have not explained whether they would accept the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which is based on the central ideas of Islam and explicitly prohibits the enactment of laws that contravene the principles and provisions of Islam. The people of Afghanistan deserve to hear the Taliban's positions clearly on these and many other questions.

These uncertainties and the lack of confidence of the Taliban have created certain attitudes towards peace talks between the pro-government factions, particularly among some political parties seeking a share of power and a new generation of politicians who do not want to lose their strength. -the fight wins.

The most common attitudes are the "commitment model" and the "defensive model." The "commitment model" sees a certain degree of commitment to the Taliban as a prerequisite for successful peace negotiations, and some international peace experts also implicitly and explicitly propagate it. But it is a myopic and problematic approach.

Opponents in the negotiations, at best, commit to superficial negotiating positions rather than their core interests. In the Afghan context, it focuses on a division of government positions among certain people or groups of people instead of building a sustainable system for the political inclusion of all Afghans.

And it is difficult to understand in which one can afford to commit. Developing? Social and political freedoms? The right of people to food and education? Can you accept intermediate rights for women?

In Kabul, the "defensive model" manifests itself as a feeling of defensive attitude, an imperative urge to protect against a terrible past when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. It stems from the feeling that the ideals and achievements of the past two decades are being attacked by the Taliban, and that fear is based on the regressive and ultra-Orthodox positions that the Taliban demonstrated when they were in power in the 1990s.