The Afghan quagmire


By Amjad Ali


The tragedy of 9/11 has jolted the entire world and changed the world landscape for good. Afghanistan, the unfortunate land has always been the battlefield since the time of Alexander the Great, remains so to the present day.  As the saying goes “we cannot choose the neighbors….”, we have suffered in the similar vein as our Afghan brethren. Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, this entire region has undergone a metaphoric dystopia. The recent talks between the Afghan Taliban and America have given a hope that the region may come out of the state of bloodbath and violence and providing the region an opportunity to pursue prosperity. Nonetheless the peace process has been called off, its resuscitation is inevitable in the near future.

It was announced that the parties had agreed on most of the issues during the dialogue process. To the utter surprise of many like me, President Trump declared on his all-time favorite Twitter that talks with the Taliban are dead. In addition, he informed that the meeting was going to take place at the Camp David. The news outlets further added that the President Ashraf Ghani was also invited at the venue with a view that the president Trump might have engaged in the shuttle diplomacy between the two Afghan warring parties.

It was assumed that the actual reason for the cancellation of peace process was the resistance within America in this regard. The hawkish elements within the American administration and the Pentagon such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton considered the agreement as an American capitulation before the Taliban. This could have been exploited by the rival presidential-hopefuls against President Trump in the run up to the presidential elections to be held in November 2020. Thus, Trump deemed it necessary to call off the meeting and the ceremony to sign the deal on the mere pretext of car bomb attack in Kabul. Certainly, that violent act perpetrated by the Taliban cannot be the sufficient rationale behind cancellation of dialogue process as the Taliban had already rejected the ceasefire.

Moreover, both the negotiating parties are adamant to show any flexibility in their positions.  America wants to conduct night raids in Afghanistan and weaken Taliban so that they may compel the Taliban to accept peace deal favorable to the Trump administration. Consequently, Presidential candidate Trump may declare victory that his strategy is far more effective than his predecessors in securing American interests in this region such as ensuring lasting peace in the war-ravaged Afghanistan and making the Taliban to accept American diktats. Above all, to claim that the American troops are further downsized and will ultimately be fully withdrawn, and the American dollars will be rechanneled to invest on American rather than the wars. A symbolic victory which may secure another presidential term of four years. For Taliban, carrying out offensive and negotiations simultaneously was meant to be in a strong bargaining position at the negotiating table. They also wanted to paint their strong image in Afghanistan that they are not going to give up and are reinvigorated as ever before for their position. Ultimately, convincing the Afghans that they the remedy to their woes lies with the Taliban.

Notwithstanding the adamant positions, both the parties have realized that the dialogue is the only recourse to secure their interests. Resultantly, the parties have shown flexibility.  Prime Minister Imran Khan has also played vital role in this regard. During his visit to America, he convinced Trump to restart the dialogue process. Taliban delegation’s visit to Islamabad and meeting with the stakeholders signals the resuscitation of dialogue process sooner rather than the later. Reportedly, the American special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad held meeting with the Taliban. This is the first known contact between the two sides since President Donald Trump called off talks last month.

For the success of the dialogue process, it is incumbent that both the parties should behave responsible manner in order to achieve the lasting peace. The Taliban should also shun the violence as a tool presumably to be perceived from the position of strength. Similarly, American administration should also avoid any such hasty decision due to the political expediency which may have long-term inimical consequences not only for Afghans but also for America itself. As Pakistan cannot choose neighbors, it is also bound to suffer along with Afghanistan, as the peace in Pakistan passes through Afghanistan. Pakistan should use its leverage on Taliban and dissuade them from perpetrating violence, with a view that bloodbath will alienate the Afghan population.

As the American election 2020 nears, the prospects for the revival of dialogue are bright. Hence, it is time that all the stakeholders are cautiously dealing with the situation. Giving up violence during the negotiations on the part of Taliban and night raids on behalf of America can be the best confidence building measure. Taliban’s jaundiced view of the elected Afghan government should also be strongly discouraged. Before the formal resumption of dialogue, it is indispensable that the Taliban be accepting Afghan government as party to the dispute regardless of the fact whoever the leader emerges. If needed and parties agree after the singing of peace agreement, fresh elections should be held in order to provide the Taliban an opportunity to contest elections. The regional powers including Iran, China, Russian and most importantly Pakistan should press the factions for viable settlement of long-drawn quagmire which ensures win-win for all.



The writer is a development sector practitioner and can be reached at