The endless endgame in Afghanistan dashes hopes of peace

By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 11, 2019
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Smoke rises from the site of an attack after a massive explosion the night before near the Green Village in Kabul on September 3, 2019. [Photo/VCG]

The possibility to bring an early end to the longest foreign war involving America has been lost – at least for some time. The immediate trigger to halt the peace process was a Taliban attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier. 

All this happened just days ahead of a reportedly planned signing of the agreement with the Afghan Taliban. The abrupt end of the quest for the long-overdue peace highlights the pitfalls on the arduous journey to end the senseless violence in Afghanistan.  

President Donald Trump's tweets accused the Taliban of using violence to leverage the process in their favor. He condemned the stratagem to kill people for the sake of petty political gains. 

But the peace process was under pressure from the beginning. Many people, including top American officials, were suspicious of its outcome. It has been said that the Taliban would consider it a victory, and, instead of sitting with the opponents, they would try to crush them. 

Thus, the objective of achieving peace would evaporate once the American troops leave and a new cycle of violence could begin. Such concerns were raised just days ahead of the cancellation of the peace process by senior U.S. officials, including former ambassadors to Kabul.  

Even from within the Congress, skeptical voices questioned the policy of pulling out all the American troops. One of the major concerns was that the Taliban would portray it as a defeat of the U.S.

There are some elements of truth in such assertions, as some reports showed that the Taliban was preparing for grand victory celebrations in Afghanistan after the peace accord is signed. 

The proposed peace deal was reached after nine rounds of talks held in Doha, the capital of the Gulf state of Qatar. From the American side, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad led the efforts, while senior Taliban leader based at their Doha political office participated in negotiations.  

The negotiations focused on four areas: withdrawal of U.S. forces, assurances by the Taliban that Afghanistan would never again be used as a base for terrorism, a general ceasefire, and an intra-Afghan dialogue. 

The agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban was the first concrete step to end more than four decades of bloodshed, but it was the easiest part of the puzzle called Afghanistan. The next steps were likely to prove trickier and far more complicated. 

The deal, once signed, is to be followed by the intra-Afghan dialogue between the Taliban and the government in Kabul. So far, no tangible move has been made to bridge the gulf between the two sides.

The Taliban do not recognize the current government, which they allege was installed by the U.S. Hence, the question of government legitimacy will come up after the Americans ink the deal and fly off.

The successful conclusion of the intra-Afghan dialogue would have completed the legal framework to end violence. However, it will not bring enduring peace and stability unless other related issues are addressed. 

These are the domains of the next phase of peacemaking. This begins with the start of the rebuilding and reconstruction programs of the war-ravaged nation. 

The overall development package should aim to put in place a self-sustaining economic model for Afghanistan, enabling it to stand on its own feet and make progress as an independent nation. 

We don't have an estimate of how much money is required for the gigantic task, but surely it will be a multi-billion dollar undertaking spread over several years. It may not be easy for the world to collect or contribute the required sum. 

Another critical step will be to facilitate the return of millions of Afghan refugees living abroad. They should be resettled and absorbed in the mainstream economy of the country. 

While the focus should be on post-conflict development, the issue of security will remain a problem. Afghanistan's troubles will not end once the Taliban embrace peace due to the challenge of Da'esh or the Islamic State. 

The group is active in several areas of Afghanistan and has been involved in some of the terrible terrorist attacks in recent months.  

Despite a bumpy road ahead, the suspended agreement reached between the U.S. and the Taliban was a watershed in the troubled history of Afghanistan. It has provided an opportunity for peace, which all Afghans should have grabbed with both hands.

However, unnecessary brinkmanship has done big damage. It has dashed the hopes of millions of people to see peace and reap its dividends. 

No war ends a war, and, ultimately, parties should sit for peace talks. So Khalilzad and Co., as well as saner elements within the Taliban, should launch damage control efforts. The sooner the process is put back on track, the better it will be. 

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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