An Afghan boy outside the Musa Qala district-centre military base in Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgency has led to numerous bombings and killings since the 1990s. Photo: AFP
by C. Uday Bhaskar
by C. Uday Bhaskar

Doha resolution offers hope, however slender, for peace in Afghanistan

  • After two decades of strife, the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government have struck a resolution to pave the way for peace, even as Donald Trump meets Imran Khan to encourage Pakistan, a Taliban supporter, to nudge the peace process along
Notwithstanding the startling assertion by United States President Donald Trump that he can end the war in Afghanistan in “a week” if he chose to but did not want to “kill 10 million people”, there is cause for hope in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Trump made these remarks during a meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday in Washington DC, but the real story lies in Doha and Kabul.

The recently concluded intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha, co-hosted by Qatar and Germany, offers hope of a dim light at the end of a dark and bloodied tunnel, whose genesis goes back to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in December 1979.

There were no breakthroughs or substantive outcomes at the conference, which brought together as many as 60 participants, including women from a broad spectrum of Afghan representatives and a group from the Taliban. The Afghan government representatives there also emphasised that they were participating in a “personal” capacity, because the Taliban dismisses Ashraf Ghani’s regime in Kabul as a puppet government and refuses to engage with it.

However, the delegates managed to agree on a road map to reduce violence and embark on reconstruction and peace-building. The joint resolution, signed by 17 Taliban members, agreed to stop attacks on “religious centres, schools, hospitals, educational centres, bazaars, water dams and workplaces”, and committed to reaching a “consensus on all-inclusive Afghan negotiations”.

Members of a Taliban delegation leaving after peace talks with Afghan senior politicians in Russia on May 30. Photo: Reuters

It added: “All Afghans are committed to a united and Islamic country, putting aside all ethnic differences; Afghanistan shall not witness another war. The international community, regional and internal elements shall respect Afghans’ values accordingly.”

The degree to which the international community respects the spirit of this resolution came into focus with the Trump-Khan meeting. It allowed a resetting of the strained US-Pakistan relationship – although Khan brought along his army chief and head of military intelligence, suggesting hard bargaining over Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army has supported the Afghan Taliban since its formation in the early 1990s. This investment in a conservative Islamic group cloaked in the Koran and Kalashnikov rifles was rationalised as a means of acquiring “strategic depth”. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was progressively enabled by Islamabad.

The September 11 carnage and the US-led global war on terrorism forced Pakistan to formally sever its links with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, even as it provided covert support to the cadres in Quetta. Pakistan’s strategy of hunting with the (US) hound while running with the (terrorist) hare peaked with the Abbottabad commission findings on the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
The US was embarrassed by Pakistan’s duplicity and angered that its major ally in the war against terror was sheltering the al-Qaeda leader and using US taxpayer money to endanger American lives. But the US could not isolate or penalise Pakistan beyond a point, given its strategic geopolitical relevance, hence the uneasy and turbulent relationship.

In Taliban talks, Trump risks wasting lives already lost

Soon after assuming office in 2017, President Trump made a commitment to “bring the boys home” and end the long and costly Afghan war. Accordingly, pressure was renewed on Pakistan and Khan, a former cricketer whose election as prime minister was supported by the army.

It is instructive that ahead of the Trump-Khan meeting, a senior US official reportedly said the purpose is to ask Pakistan, at this “critical juncture in the peace process” to “pressure the Taliban into a permanent ceasefire” .

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has engaged in relentless shuttle diplomacy, travelling to Afghanistan, Qatar, China and other places to nudge the peace process along, and the Doha outcome is testimony to this perseverance.

But the road to any meaningful peace in Afghanistan is strewn with an intractable mix of blood, fatigue, cynicism, discord and mistrust, with the Afghan citizen paying the heaviest price.

Even before the ink was dry on the Doha joint resolution, differences have surfaced. The English version assured Afghan women of their fundamental rights “in accordance with the values of Islam”, but made no reference to the critical Taliban demand that foreign military forces leave Afghanistan.

The Pashto version, which Taliban delegates need to “sell” to their warlords, highlighted the withdrawal of foreign troops and excluded any guarantees of women's rights.

As always, the devil is in the details and it is not clear if the Taliban will accept political accommodation and put the guns away for good. The status of the Afghan constitution is opaque, but appears to be moving towards an amended constitution in accordance with more stringent and inflexible Islamic laws and traditions.

Afghanistan’s ‘Internet Generation’ fear peace with Taliban

Whose version of Islam remains moot but the slender hope generated by Doha remains. Civil society in Afghanistan is weary after two decades of Taliban-induced ravages and how the US prioritises its southern Asian policy options will be carefully monitored in the region and beyond.

The Trump domestic political compulsion and his re-election imperative have catalysed the Doha effort in a very visible manner.

Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar is director of the Society for Policy Studies (SPS), an independent think tank based in New Delhi