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
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.
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”.
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 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.
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.
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.
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