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Challenges & Progress of Afghan-led, Afghan-Owned Peace Process

By Muhammad Nawaz Khan : –

The Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process is undergoing at two levels: indigenous (national) peace process, called as Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP) led by High Peace Council and the other one being facilitated by international and regional actors through bilateral, trilateral and quadrilateral platforms – the most recent example is the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG). The APRP is based on two principles, namely the “reintegration of reconciles” and “peace talks” with the Afghan non-state actors. However, it is pertinent to mention that as integrated elements of political reconciliation, reintegration and peace talks could never take place independently of each other. Presently, the peace talks lag behind the reintegration in Afghanistan as the latter could relatively be the much easier process. It is always possible to have some defectors in a militant group, as well as, to make attractive arrangement for such defectors. Yet, it could be extremely difficult to negotiate a peace deal with a political-militant group, whose political aim is drastically different. Therefore, Kabul and Washington have largely been focusing on reintegration rather than peace talks.

The High Peace Council (HPC) was established in 2010, which is an only body of the APRP, to negotiate with insurgents for quitting violence and reintegrating into normal life. The APRP offers socio-economic incentives, including all sort of development programmes for accelerating economic development on the one hand, and generating job opportunities for former insurgents to offer long-term guarantee of their livelihood on the other.

The APRP has produced the mixed results such as, under the reintegration programme, it could not successfully reintegrate all the Afghan insurgents especially from southern parts of the country, e.g. till 2015; only 10,500 militants had joined the peace process, with nearly one-fourth former rebels surrendering in northern zone. The fewer number of militants joined the peace process in southern zone. The surrendering militants had handed over 8000 weapons to the government. More than half of the weapons were collected in Herat, Baghlan, Ghor and Nangarhar provinces. Most of the reconciling militants joined the peace process in western and northwestern provinces and the least in northwest and southern provinces.

Moreover, it is hard to confirm the real identities of so-called reconcilees.” It is reported that some “reconcilees” have in fact never been associated with any insurgent groups. They are just nothing other than fake insurgents. They joined the programme with a purpose to receive the promised transition assistance and other incentives for

reconcilees. This undoubtedly constitutes a major challenge to reintegration programme, although one could hardly affirm the credible percentage of such “fake Taliban.”

Besides, the fear of punitive actions by Taliban over defections of its members has added difficulties in success of reintegration programme. The insufficient long-term emplacement of reconcilees constitutes another big challenge such as insufficient resources have been allocated for reconcilees. As a result, reconcilees could hardly secure a well-off life after the transition period. As a matter of fact, since many reconcilees just surrender for assistance, they are likely to take up arms for the second time once the prospects of their livelihood turned gloomy.

As, the HPC was created in order to resolve the Afghanistan conflict through dialogue, but the Taliban responded with violence. Therefore, the HPC even failed to hold peace talks with Taliban. If Taliban leaders oppose the peace process, peace cannot be achieved. Thus, the Afghan peace talks initiative could only achieve a peace agreement between Hezb-e-Islami party and the Afghan government so far, which was signed on September 22, 2016, bringing to an end the two years of negotiations. According to the agreement, the Hezb-e-Islami’s made commitments of not supporting any terrorist group, besides stopping all of its military activities. It would announce a permanent ceasefire, recognise the current Afghan constitution, become active in the country as an important political party and give guarantee that released prisoners do not return to the battlefield. In return, the Afghan government made promises that it would work with the UN Security Council and all concerned states and international organisations to lift up all sanctions against Hezb-e-Islami. It would also provide legal immunity to the party leader and members and free all Hezb-e-Islami related prisoners.

In contrast to one of the Taliban’s demands, concerning implementation of Shariat, it has been mentioned in the agreement that no Afghan law could be made against the principles and provisions of Islam. Furthermore, both the sides also support the withdrawal of the foreign military forces based on agreements that are in the national interest of the country, which shows that the Hezb-e-Islami has accepted those security agreements that the Afghan government has signed with the US (Bilateral Security Agreement) and the NATO countries, in which the complete withdrawal of the remaining foreign forces will take place in 2025 and beyond, under the security situation of the country, whereas, the Taliban remained stick to their demand of complete withdrawal of foreign forces.

Although the agreement is considered a breakthrough for the Afghan peace talks initiative and it is also believed that this agreement may encourage some of the mainstream Taliban to join the bandwagon of peace talks or the Hezb-e-Islami’s leadership may likely to play an important role as a mediator between the Kabul

government and the Afghan Taliban for reaching a peace agreement but one cannot ignore the fact that permanent peace could not be established until the Taliban join the peace talks. The Taliban is only one element of the strong armed opposition and is itself factionalized, being the largest best-organized and most lethal group. Today, the Taliban are gaining strength and seriously challenging the hold of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) over parts of the country and they have established a significant footprint in Afghanistan, according to Bill Roggio — the editor of The Long War Journal, an online publication that is tracking Taliban control — that about one-fifth (20 per cent) of the country is controlled or contested by the Taliban, but he emphasized that this was a conservative estimate. Rather, the Taliban probably either control or heavily influence about a half of the country.

The second part of the Afghan reconciliation process is to facilitate the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process by international and regional actors. In this regard, the first round of talks conducted in Murree in July 2015, was considered a significant breakthrough also involving the Taliban representatives. Unfortunately, the Murree process was sabotaged by those forces, who do not like return of normalcy and peace in Afghanistan, which could have indirectly contributing towards peace in Pakistan. Indeed, India felt as being left-out once there was a greater correlation between Pakistan and Afghanistan after President Ghani took over and especially once peace talks in Murree made headway with a promise for the second round of talks. Following these unusual developments, India mobilized its spying network to egg on its outfit; the National Directorate of Security, who ultimately disclosed the death of Mullah Omar and sabotaged the next round of talks.

Later that year, the Heart of Asia Conference was held in December 2015 where the international community initiated the QCG process for peace in Afghanistan. The roadmap prepared by the QCG – unpublished – aimed at setting specific measures necessary for creating a conducive environment for the commencement of Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace talks between the Afghanistan government and the Afghan non-state actors for the reduction of violence and establishing lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region. The efforts of the QCG were all in vain as the US did not take to confidence any other member of the QCG prior to killing of Mullah Mansour.

Basically, the US is pursuing its overall Afghan Policy such as declaratory and operational policy. In this context, to strengthen the Afghan government and democratic process and support of peace process are the US declaratory policy and to continue fighting against the Taliban and others non-state actors including the killing of Taliban’s leadership are its operational policy. In fact, a dubious policy is adopted by the Washington. For instance, on one hand it showed enhanced flexibility and openly expressed its support to the QCG and Afghan-led peace process. On the other hand it killed the Mullah Mansoor. Besides, the war continues due to confused US strategy,

ever-changing plans with regard to “stay in” or “exit” from Afghanistan, and most importantly due to continuously changing the ways it views the Taliban. The Taliban, as the US official discourse shows unambiguously, have travelled from being “terrorists” to “insurgents” and now from “insurgents” to “foreign enemies.”

Whereas, the QCG has some specific aims such as to facilitate the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process for establishing peace in the country. In a nutshell, the disruption of second round of Murree peace process and Killing of Mullah Mansour were a strategic setback to the Afghan peace process, which have sunken any prospect for a political solution, at least for the near future.

The writer works for IPRI

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