For several decades, Afghanistan has been bereft of peace either due to foreign interventions on the part of super powers like the former Soviet Union and the US or due to the aspirations of indigenous rival armed groups for control of the country. A detailed analysis of previous reconciliatory efforts in Afghanistan suggests that these practices have been largely fragmented and often contradictory in nature as a consequence of overlapping security and foreign policy interests of the involved players. The need of the hour is to search for enduring political solutions with reconciliatory efforts directly aimed at the Afghan public who have endured a life time of bloodshed and bitterness.
Reconciliation is all about building harmonious and cooperative relationships between conflicting parties so that past grievances could be aired out and terms for future interdependence explored. Despite divergent views over the manner in which the Afghan peace settlement should conclude, all foreign actors including the US, Russia, China, India along with immediate neighbors Pakistan and Iran, are keen to bring stability and peace in the country. In this regard, the appointment of a seasoned diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad by the US to liaison with the reconcilable faction of the Afghan Taliban is a commendable initiative along with promises of a gradual troop withdrawal.
Moreover with elections on the horizon, a democratic transition will further prove to be politically expedient for reconciliation as the newly elected post-conflict regime will want to gain the support of the local public through the establishment of a national consensus around the avoidance of violence and systematic abuse of human rights, which are the major themes of various election manifestos in Afghanistan.
Calls for frequent ceasefires between the Afghan Government and the Taliban along with an overall desire for peace in the country (Helmand peace march) as opposed to outright opposition from leading Afghan politicians in the past suggests that the political atmosphere within the country is ripe for the process of national reconciliation to begin. Moreover with elections on the horizon, a democratic transition will further prove to be politically expedient for reconciliation as the newly elected post-conflict regime will want to gain the support of the local public through the establishment of a national consensus around the avoidance of violence and systematic abuse of human rights, which are the major themes of various election manifestos in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, one major prerequisite for reconciliation to begin is to identify mutual interests by both parties and a determination on the part of party leaders to tone down their antagonistic feelings towards the establishment of norms of tolerance and respect for each other. Such sentiments have been observed in two days of talks, held in Moscow, between the Taliban and other prominent Afghan politicians, many of whom were enemies in the past. According to a statement by a Cabinet Minister Omar Zakhilwal who was present at the talks, both the parties showed flexibility coupled with a genuine desire for peace.
In addition, a major principle of the reconciliation process should be to address the traumatic experiences of the Afghan populace victimized by unbridled violence as a consequence of intra-state rivalry between factionalized identity groups living in close proximity to each other. In this regard, the Taliban’s willingness towards respecting fundamental human rights, especially women’s rights during the peace talks held in Doha and Moscow, after decades of sustained collective violence is a welcomed step.
However, where on one hand the practice of reconciliation within the political setting of Afghanistan may lead to positive outcomes, on the other, if not supplemented by the willingness of the parties on ground, the process could lead to more alienation and a resulting deep-seated conflict. Renewed conflict will further require countless efforts at management and resolution which would be met with greater cynicism in future. For instance the absence of the American backed Government of Ashraf Ghani in any major talks between the Afghan Taliban and other major stakeholders and the reciprocal rejection of any peace offers from the Government can serve as a major roadblock in the trajectory towards Afghan reconciliation.
According to a statement by a Cabinet Minister Omar Zakhilwal who was present at the talks, both the parties showed flexibility coupled with a genuine desire for peace.
Hence, the need of the hour is to encourage intra-Afghan dialogue, not only to enhance political and social tolerance between the Taliban and the Afghan Government but also to structure a power sharing formula geared towards the institutionalization of democracy. Any such structure ought to be focused on greater transparency and accountability of the political leadership. Herein, the role of national reconciliation is to help rehumanise the actors involved in the conflict so that the Afghan public regain a sense of communal identity which withered away as a consequence of constant violence and the need to bandwagon with the most powerful political actors.
Moreover, reconciliation between the stakeholders should also involve an effective and non-discriminatory system of legal reparation along with some form of material restitution to victims, with the long-term goal of improving social conditions which drove the conflict in the first place. Separating micro processes from the broader social context of the conflicting situation for independent resolution is not feasible as all aspects are deeply interwoven. For instance, fear on the part of individuals as an internal element can lead to outright violence as an external element which has been seen in various clashes between the Taliban and US forces on ground.
To conclude, since seizing control of Afghanistan in 1996, the Taliban have proven to be a force to be reckoned with. Recently, negotiations between American diplomats and Taliban held in Doha and talks held in Moscow between seasoned Afghan politicians and the Taliban geared towards instilling peace in Afghanistan, were hailed as steps in the right direction. However, the absence of the American backed Government of Ashraf Ghani raised suspicions. At the moment, both the involved foreign powers should work together to encourage intra-Afghan dialogue in line with the ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ mantra so that any finalized peace deals should cater to all major stakeholders. Once the reconciliatory processes have borne fruit on the domestic level, only then can lasting peace in Afghanistan be achieved.