Seven steps to lasting peace in Afghanistan – if the US, Afghans and Taliban can walk them

  • Many hurdles must be overcome before a final and permanent accord is struck. Given the distrust, and the heavy toll of a 17-year war, the task won’t be easy
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2019, 1:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2019, 3:40am

The longest war in American history may come to an end following an agreement in principle between the US and the Taliban recently concluded in Doha (“US envoy confirms ‘draft framework’ for peace deal in Afghanistan”, January 29).

Notwithstanding the importance of the agreement, there are many hurdles that must be overcome before a final and permanent accord is struck. Moreover, given the distrust between the two sides and the heavy toll the war exacted over 17 years, reaching a sustainable deal would require at least seven steps.

First, it will be extremely important to establish a sequential order of specific actions on either side, beginning by requiring the Taliban to declare a ceasefire, against which 10-15 per cent of American troops would be withdrawn, followed by an interest-based negotiation for a lasting political solution, against which another segment of American forces would be pulled out.

Second, a long-term arrangement is needed to ensure security is maintained during the withdrawal process of US forces and beyond. The present Afghan military forces and the Taliban need to cooperate in this regard, which will not be easy to accomplish.

Additionally, they must agree to fully collaborate on a monitoring regime, which would include international observers to ensure that Afghanistan is not used as a terrorist base.

Third, the success of any agreement in the long term would require the full support of the tribal heads, who exert great power on their tribes and, by extension, on the Taliban. A Pashtun tribal chief I spoke to recently fervently asserted that, without the support of the tribes, no agreement can endure, given that the country has long been a tribal society.

Fourth, there must be reconciliation between the government and the Taliban, which currently refuses to directly engage. President Ashraf Ghani insists that a final agreement must protect the inalienable rights and values of Afghans.

Additionally, the role of civil society, the rights of other ethnic groups, women’s rights, and a consensual representative government must be protected.

Peace deal with Taliban a matter of ‘when, not if’, says Afghan president

Fifth, delineating Pakistan’s role. For years, Pakistan provided a refuge for Taliban fighters, from where they staged terror attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.

Knowing, though, that the US is bent on withdrawing forces, Pakistan would want to ensure that its own security is not compromised, strengthen ties with the US and benefit financially, and prevent Indian influence in Afghanistan while enhancing its own.

Sixth, there is the matter of international funding. After 17 years of death and destruction, Afghanistan will need billions in aid for reconstruction, rehabilitation and new infrastructure. Indeed, any peace agreement will collapse under continuing economic distress.

Seventh, allow for more time. The Trump administration should give time for the current negotiations to settle several intractable time-consuming issues and develop a shared political vision for the future of the country.

Ironically, following the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration demanded that the then-Taliban government prevent any violent extremists, such as al-Qaeda, from planning attacks against the US, which the Taliban refused, leading to the Afghanistan war.

Sadly, it took the death of more than 2,300 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghans, and more than US$1 trillion, to accept the inevitable by reaching today’s agreement, which is based on the very same principles.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, professor, Centre for Global Affairs, NYU