Moving Towards Peace in Afghanistan
By: Osman Khan
Eleven years in the war in Afghanistan! Did it do any good to America or its citizens? The question is being debated in the US nowadays. The debate in the civil society and the think tanks is certainly working towards aiding Obama’s plans to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014 albeit! against the wishes of US military establishment.
The terrorists’ attack on ‘World Trade Centre’ in New York that killed thousands, changed the whole security paradigm in the US and the world. United States has never been the same since then. America went into war in Afghanistan on October 7, 2002 to root out Al-Qaeda and Taliban in revenge to the terrorists’ attack in New York. since then the war has taken a large toll not only on the American lives but also the Afghans. Whereas around 4000 foreign troops have been killed in the war so far, Afghans died in tens of thousands. As per one figure available with the UN, more than 12000 Afghans have died since 2007 in the war. Figures of deaths that took place before that year are not documented. Economically, by 2014 the US war in Afghanistan would have cost the US $4.4 Trillion. President Obama, realizing that war in Afghanistan is becoming a large burden on the economy in the global economic melt down decided to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by 2014. Though the military commanders insist that the war in Afghanistan is just and winnable and as such should be continued with, the administration decided otherwise and declared to repatriate its forces from Afghanistan by 2014.
The decision to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan needed an atmosphere that guaranteed safe exit for the US. That necessitated granting concessions to Taliban and corresponding talks. Some of the Taliban leaders have been removed from the UN watch list and some have been released from Guantanamo bay. Taliban leaders that once were prohibited from travelling abroad are now allowed to travel. Travelling exemption will pave the way for peace and reconciliation process that is going to be very important for the next two years. Afghanistan regime is also not averse to accommodating Taliban in any future set-up. Accordingly, Kabul appointed ‘High Peace Council’ chalked out a road map that would eventually bring Taliban in the political mainstream. Elsewhere, a lot of activity is seen to have taken place in the same connection. Three Afghan delegations have visited Pakistan in search of peace asking for Pakistan’s support and release of Taliban leaders from the Pakistani prisons. Pakistan has released some signaling its sincere desire in seeing a stabilized Afghanistan. The respective leaders have also met in Turkey whereas nominated Taliban commanders are heading to France for talks on bringing stability to their war torn country.
The Afghan road map is based on assumption that through peace process now in full gear, Taliban factions would give up their armed opposition by 2015 and would essentially be a part of Afghan political mainstream. This road map however appears to be too idealistic as Taliban continue to refuse direct talks with Kabul terming the regime as illegitimate. The first step of the road map calls for securing the collaboration of Pakistan for peace process to succeed, second step would be to initiate moves towards formal direct negotiations with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia in the first half of the next month. Third step calls for getting agreements signed for cease fire in the second half of the year 2013 and fourth step calls for securing a peaceful end to the conflict in the first half of the year 2014.
Some in the US appear to be skeptical on this road map as they fear that the plan tantamount reducing its role in Afghan reconciliation process as a major stake holder. The skepticism nevertheless is ill founded as the process would certainly need US role, if at all some final agreement is to be reached. Even this process that has been discussed between the two respective presidents in Turkey, has a US backing as well. Pakistan, the only major country that has lost so much in terms of lives and economy, has an undisputed interest in seeing Afghanistan return to normalcy. Pakistan has always called for Afghan led peace efforts in Afghanistan. It was in this spirit that Pakistan released some Taliban leaders from its custody. In all the core group meetings held so far Pakistan, its role has been very cooperative, a fact that US interlocutors have not shied away from expressing at all the forums.
Pakistani civil and military leaders have on all the occasions emphasized for a peace process led by Afghans themselves. Chief of the Army Staff whiling addressing a European Union gathering at Brussels, also called for Afghan led peace process. He not only pressed for early negotiations with the Taliban but also vowed to support whatever it takes to stabilize Afghanistan before the foreign forces quit the country. Pakistan fears that a huge security vacuum may take place soon after withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014 seriously impacting on Pakistan’s security paradigm.
The major war players in Afghanistan look towards Pakistan as a catalyst in easing out not only their withdrawal from Afghanistan but also contribute in Afghan stability. Accordingly, Pakistan is being afforded with economic concessions by the EU and the NATO alliance has sought to sign a strategic pact with Pakistan that would cater for its interests in Afghanistan and the region as well. Pakistan needs to be cautious here as these concessions and agreements may not turn out to be an exercise wherein Pakistan is held liable for whatever happens in Afghanistan beyond 2014.