By Karim Merchant, senior researcher, strategy, policy, and programme advisor in Afghanistan for 20 years. He has worked for a number of international organisations and the Government of Afghanistan covering elements of rural development and agriculture, governance, political analysis, security and peacebuilding and public finance.
|This is a blog post that expresses the writer’s attitudes and opinions.|
A growing preoccupation with U.S. and then NATO troop withdrawal, a militarily ascendant Taliban and the possibilities of impending civil war seem to have clouded the possibility of other alternative outcomes. In addition, there seems to be a somewhat limited desire for the international community to take stock of its own role in fueling the situation though uncoordinated approaches to the Taliban and the Afghan government – the somewhat ambiguously worded U.S. Taliban Peace Agreement struck last year in Doha is one such example.
The circular response of the international community watching from the political sidelines range from a constant protest and outcry at Taliban gains and civilian casualties at one end, and aspirational mantras of “a negotiated and inclusive political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process» at the other end. The sequenced demands for a ceasefire, intra-Afghan negotiations and power sharing along with the protection of women’s rights, youth and minorities need to be less reflective of external desires and reworded to fit the actual Afghan context.
Meanwhile, within the country, it is clear that the peace process itself will not progress while there is space and opportunity for negotiation elsewhere. As such, the peace process is an artificial construct out of touch with complex realities on the ground. Both the Taliban and the Afghan government lack cohesion and remain fragmented and divided in terms of loyalties and some from both sides desire to consolidate or even expand existing powerbases.
The various Taliban Shuras and foreign-supported criminal networks have diverse agendas and regularly challenge announcements made during the Doha peace process. Even the so-called ‘mainstream’ Taliban representatives have been emboldened by the increased legitimacy due to the U.S. peace agreement, making greater demands prior to the Istanbul meetings which resulted in its postponement. On the Afghan republic side, individual meetings between Taliban representatives and Afghan powerbrokers who have little faith in the government have never stopped.
There seem to be a number of alternatives currently being explored, with the most active being an agreement struck between the Taliban and Afghan powerbrokers, ensuring geographical division of the country similar to the Mujahidin period with areas of control being carved out from the settling dust of a failing western-designed statebuilding exercise.
Another possibility seems to be a formal process advocated by the President and a small section of the elected government in which the Taliban would be drawn into an interim and subsequent formal governance structure based on a combination of traditional and more modern strictures.
The role of the Taliban in terms of functional, geographical control and military integration would be an ongoing discourse that may or may not end well. Previously, this possibility has been discarded by many Afghans due to the poor performance of the Afghan government and the Afghan National Deference and Security Forces (ANDSF) against recent Taliban gains across the country. However, the raising of local militias and ‘uprising forces’ in Parwan, Kapisa and Panjshir provinces led by ‘jihadis’ may provide a temporary answer, but may undermine government influence and lower the credibility of the ANDSF in those same areas. Interestingly, there also seems to be a gathering of fighters made up of local community members alongside these full-time militiamen to repel the Taliban, as seen in Balkh and Herat provinces.
If such an uprising was to achieve a critical mass forcing the Taliban to fight against the very people with whom they would prefer to collaborate. Perhaps at that point the Taliban may want to negotiate after all after all, but would the current peace process platforms in Doha, Istanbul or Moscow still provide be a conducive environment?