American, Taliban, US, Afghanistan

Peace is always an alluring prospect regardless of time or place. From it, mushrooms growth and prosperity whereas whenever it dwindles is ensured ruination. Historically, in the post-war world order, peace treaties among different groups within and across international borders were forged and upheld in some instances while entirely collapsing on other occasions.

This checkered history of peace treaties should be reflected unto negotiators in the Afghan peace process as without accounting for significant yet implicit notions of peace negotiations, the attempts to forge a settlement between intra-Afghan forces for the sake of immediate, short-term success will result in an another prolonged period of perpetual death and destruction.

As the current state of peace negotiation stand at the time of writing this article, the US is seeking concessions from the Taliban on three fundamental matters including the acceptance of the Afghan government as a negotiator, a promise to introduce a ceasefire and the securing of territory from transnational terrorist groups set against the American concession on early Troop withdrawal.

These developments emerge in the context of deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan amidst rising human, political and military costs of the conflict.

In instance of another negotiation between disparate Afghan groups including the Taliban in Moscow, talks were held regarding securing women and civil rights and drafting of the new constitution. On both instances, the Afghan government was sidelined. Moreover, the Taliban went on a charm offensive as they proposed conciliatory efforts for power-sharing in national governance as well as seeking better relations with regional and international players.

These developments emerge in the context of deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan amidst rising human, political and military costs of the conflict. The territorial control of Afghan government continues to fall as the casualty rate of Afghan forces averaged 57 per day in 2018, while the desertion rate surged considerably. Poppy cultivation has soared to an all-time high. The human cost of the conflict has reached 147,000 (including civilians, Afghan and US military casualties) in 2018.

These security driven political realities of the prolonged conflict should break the acceleration with which the Washington peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, is seeking to call it a day in Afghanistan. Once again, the national politics of electoral cycles and an exclusively American perspective guiding the exit strategy will, in all likelihood, ensure anything but peace.

The American process of peace negotiations rests upon three primary assumptions which are faulty at their core, but are guiding the willing adherence of belief on part of Washington that a hurried exit would ensure peace, stability, and harmony in Afghanistan.

1. Afghanistan is a unitary state and Afghan nationalism would triumph over all ethno-tribal identities:

The fundamental fallacy in the U.S. thinking pertinent to Afghanistan since the onset of the war on terror is that it considers Afghanistan a nation-state in the modern conception of the word. Following which, unsuitable objectives such as nation-building and the spread of democracy and freedom were introduced as political elements which were sought to magically ensure development and prosperity in the war-torn country. As the bubble of this farcical thinking embedded in the grand American project of reshaping the political narrative, backed by full might of American military, burst at the peak of US and NATO’s military involvement in the country, few were humble enough to admit the desynchronization of American thinking with the history, culture and politics of this region.

For over a century, Afghanistan has been a hotbed of geopolitical contestations between various imperial powers for the purpose of projecting their clout and sustaining their imperial enterprises. In this construct, Afghanistan was never able to develop a unitary, national state comprising of all its tribal and ethnic identities,  instead placing more importance on a singular national identity than on separate ethnic identities.

To say the least, Afghanistan is a ‘state of nations’ in reference to various ethnic groups that conceive their identities separately, with its attendant forms in culture and politics beyond the realm of a unifying Afghan nationalism. Whenever a certain ethnic militant-political group attains political power through the barrel of the gun, it augments its own power and by extension, empowers its ethnicity at the expense of others. This Russian roulette of diverse identities complicates any peace process as once again a pan-Afghan vision is largely absent from the peace talks.

2. As a warfighting machine, Taliban would cease its militant operations after peace deal:

The second assumption in American understanding of Afghanistan is that it considers the Taliban as a transnational, terrorist entity, bent upon destroying the US, until recently. This notion was severely misplaced and amputated the American strategy against the group since the beginning.

The Taliban movement was developed as chaos and bloodshed were ravaging the fabric of state and society as the civil war ensued after the Soviet withdrawal. In essence, the Taliban is an ethno-nationalist group, formed primarily to secure Pashtun identity and politics, ensuring stability for all in given that it is the largest ethnic group in the country.

However, after battling a 17 year war, which they regard as an invasion, Taliban militarily gained significant momentum and consolidated its ever-thriving war machine in the Afghan political context. Despite the relatively proportional strength gained by militant groups of other identities (some of whom are in government) and subsequently the warlords, all thrived under the post-911 war economy of Afghanistan. Furthermore, the recent appointment of the ministers of interior and defense, Amrullah Saleh and Asadullah Khalid, both known for their tough stance on Taliban, reflect the Kabul government’s positioning with regards to fully accepting Taliban as an equally representative political group in Afghan polity.

In essence, the Taliban is an ethno-nationalist group, formed primarily to secure Pashtun identity and politics, ensuring stability for all in given that it is the largest ethnic group in the country.

Despite the Taliban’s stance on power-sharing, its social vision along with views on foreign policy, defense, and economics contrast strongly with those who are in power currently.

It must also be emphasized that the Taliban did not lose power due to the popular will of the people but were dethroned by the American-led operation. This came at the expense of other ethnicities, largely Tajik, attaining political power.

Upon return, the Taliban may not seek to exact vengeance upon those who, in their perspective, usurped their power, citing political stability as a top priority. But those ethnic groups who stand to lose considerably upon Taliban’s political ascendancy in Afghanistan may not give them a kind reception.

Despite the Taliban’s stance on power-sharing, its social vision along with views on foreign policy, defense, and economics contrast strongly with those who are in power currently.

Power-sharing is a very delicate matter, particularly when animosity between armed groups is prevalent rendering the State significantly weaker. After arming the entirety of the country over the course of the past decades, there is no conversation (publicly, at least) over disarming militant groups from all ethnicities.

Therefore, as a disaster-in-waiting predicament may arise if armed militant-political groups resume violent hostilities as politicians scramble for more power and influence, reminiscent of post-Gaddafi Libya.

3. After the culmination of negotiations, Afghans will sort out their own issues:

The final misperceived perspective in the American-led peace negotiation is that wars start and end with accordance to American will. Supposedly, Washington possesses such wizardry that it could push an end button which will subsequently end all historical and geopolitical rivalries and revert Afghanistan to a point when it was ‘Great Again’, whenever it was.

If history serves as any guide, the notion that Afghans (if there is any such entity) should peacefully arbitrate between themselves, bridging their political differences is a profound travesty. As has been noted previously, ethno-tribal groups in Afghanistan should not be considered as comprising a single, unifying national entity which could motivate them to compromise and cooperate. Such complexities are only aggravated by global struggles for power and influence among various regional and international state actors.

As President Trump asserted in his State of the Union address, America would seek to draw down on its military commitment and would rather focus on counter-terrorism. Many regional nations, including China and Russia have been left to their own interpretation of what that connotes amidst statements by defense officials that they received no formal order for troop reduction. Already, Russia has expressed apprehension over mysterious helicopters providing weapons to Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) in Afghanistan.

If history serves as any guide, the notion that Afghans (if there is any such entity) should peacefully arbitrate between themselves, bridging their political differences is a profound travesty.

In view of these ambiguities, there are concerns that U.S. counter-terrorism operations might amount to propping up various militant groups, cultivating an ecosystem for cooperation between these groups and utilizing them in surveillance of the region. The intelligence they provide can be used to disturb Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan when the need arises. This perspective gains currency when there are speculations of the US seeking to outsource the Afghan war theater to Blackwater, a private paramilitary organization founded by Erik Prince. Therefore, essentially, privatizing the conflict and maneuvering it from the outside.

But regardless of whatever trajectory the internal environment in Afghanistan would take post-American physical presence, it is likely that it will get worse before it even gets to become slightly better. A country in which various ethnic groups are war experienced, armed to the teeth, loyal to their base identities, have had experienced the power and influence of external actors, given that geopolitical interests of various powers are significantly distinct to each other, the conversations of sustainable peace and stability are tantamount to the tragedy of political prescience and foresight.

Leave a Comment

Login

Welcome! Login in to your account

Remember me Lost your password?

Lost Password