Foreign troops, graft & neighbours’ meddling hampering peace
KABUL (Pajhwok): The continued international military presence, foreign meddling, proxy wars, the absence of an impartial peace body, lack of an effective strategy, widespread corruption, unemployment and drugs are seen as major impediments to the reconciliation drive in Afghanistan.
Despite hectic efforts over the past 13 years, including a string of visits to Pakistan by former president Hamid Karzai, the conflict drags on and peace negotiations with the Taliban remain a distant dream. After the formation of the national unity government, his successor Mohammad Ashraf Ghani also paid trips to Islamabad and Beijing to strengthen peace.
Unfortunately, intense fighting is still ongoing, dashing stability hopes that were spurred by the high-profile visits, Pakistan’s assurances to cooperate with the reconciliation process and the recent meeting between High Peace Council members and representatives of the Hezb-i-Islami and Taliban in Qatar.
Political Science Department teacher at Kabul University Shahla Farid, speaking exclusively to Pajhwok Afghan News, identified lack of even-handed economic progress and a clear strategy as well as failure of the High Peace Council (HPC) as principal barriers to the reconciliation campaign.
Weakness of the political system is another hurdle that needs to be removed on a priority basis. “As long as these aspects are not taken into consideration, we can never achieve the goal of lasting peace,” she warned. A viable peace plan, implemented effectively with support from the public and the state organs concerned, could produce the desired result.
The academic went on to chide the peace panel for its weird approach to peace-making with the militants. “A handful individuals, including those who don’t desire peace, come together to discuss reconciliation policy. A policy thus framed is not based on national consensus and tends to create problems rather than solution.”
On lopsided economic progress, she alleged: “Funds for massive development projects in Afghanistan line the pockets of a handful of individuals. This proves our economic uplift isn’t even-handed, prompting disgruntled people to swell the ranks of insurgents,” she argued.
Absent a clear definition of the so-called enemy, the government has been unable to tell apart friends and foes at domestic and global levels, according to Shahla, who referred to Kabul’s confusing characterisation of Islamabad both as a friend and an enemy. “When we have a consistent policy and unqualified support from the masses, peace opportunities could be created; otherwise achieving the objective will be impossible.”
At the same time, the university teacher rejected the notion -- shared by the Taliban and some other circles -- that an international military presence hampers peace in Afghanistan. “The presence of foreign soldiers is no impediment to reconciliation because the armed opposition is equipped and financed by them.”
But noted political commentator Waheed Muzhda cited the foreign military deployment, inclusion of Taliban leaders in the UN blacklist, signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) allowing the creation of US bases in Afghanistan and closure of the Taliban’s political bureau in Qatar as big setbacks to the reconciliation endeavour.
The militants, particularly the Taliban, always voice their reservations about these issues. “By the same token, the Afghan government’s reach-out to Pakistan instead of the fighters is also viewed as an important factor militating against the success of the peace effort,” he said.
Muzhda believed reopening of the Taliban office in Qatar could be a huge confidence-building measure that would help create the right environment for peace negotiations. In the first phase, he thought, negotiators would be able to surmount many of the impediments.
However, defence analyst Gen. Abdul Hadi Khalid called the insurgents’ refusal to recognise the Afghan constitution and continuity of the proxy war the main stumbling block to reconciliation. If the Taliban accepted the basic law, he claimed: “The question about foreign military deployment will be answered automatically.” He asked the insurgents why they continued to fight against Afghan forces.
“Outsiders are fighting a proxy war in our homeland and this poses a huge challenge to peace,” he remarked, without naming any country. However, Pakistan, India, Iran and some other countries have long been blamed for waging a power struggle in Afghanistan.
In September 2014, Canada's Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander had warned in an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News: “If Pakistan doesn’t stop proxy wars in Afghanistan and supporting the Taliban, it will create a serious threat to itself and the world at large.”
Also last year, Pakistan’s former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf had also warned of a proxy war in Afghanistan between New Delhi and Islamabad after the withdrawal of NATO-led forces. “India’s increasing influence in Afghanistan is a threat to Pakistan. India conducts anti-Pakistan operations in Afghanistan and making the country Pakistan’s enemy.”
President Ashraf Ghani, addressing the 18th South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Kathmandu In November 2014, categorically promised no one would be allowed to use Afghanistan’s soil against its neighbours. He also vowed a full stop to proxy wars in his country, calling for addressing the root causes of violence in the region and forging instruments of cooperation to bring lasting peace.
Millie Wafaq party head Bismillah Sher excoriated HPC members for misappropriating the nation’s funds and failing to put an end to the 13-year-old conflict. He also criticised Taliban’s statement that a foreign military presence was fuelling the war. “The Taliban themselves have paved the ground for this.”
But the rebel movement, announcing its spring offensive on April 22, said under USleadership, the "crusaders"would maintain "control of our land and space" through security agreements with the Afghan government. The agreements allow NATO and the US to keep a limited number of non-combat troops in Afghanistan to train and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the insurgency.
"For the complete liberation of our beloved homeland from the yoke of foreign occupation and for the implementation of Islamic rule throughout the country, the Islamic Emirate is determined to prolong the ongoing jihad against the foreign invaders as well as their internal stooges,"they vowed.
Qaribur Rahman, head of the HIA Peace and Political Affairs Commission in Europe, said: “Foreign interference and a weak government propped up by outsiders are the real obstacles to reconciliation in Afghanistan.” He chided the national unity government for inking BSA with US without consulting its political and armed opponents.
He claimed the conflict continued because of the security pact, insisting peace would continue to elude Afghanistan as long as international forces remained in the country. The flames of war would engulf the neighbours if they did not halt meddling in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, he added.
For his part, HPC spokesman Shahzada Shahid accepted criticism of the panel’s activities. He identified the foreign troop presence, proxy war and poppy cultivation as hurdles to reconciliation. “The HPC has pursued peace seriously and the armed opponents have not yet refused to negotiate with the panel...”
Shahid continued: “If the Taliban had decline negotiating with HPC members, we would have assembled negotiators acceptable to them. The government would have also selected neutral individuals to act as credible mediators.”
The withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Afghanistan has been a key condition set by the Taliban, according to the council spokesman, who believed other issues could be sorted out one way or the other. Similarly, poppy cultivation also encouraged fighting, he reiterated.
He said the menace of drugs had spawned many other social and health hazards. Some militant commanders might be involved in poppy cultivation and drug smuggling, the official suspected.
During a recent discussion in Kabul, speakers said the absence of God-fearing and independent negotiators was an important impediment to peace. Internal and external factors militating against the success of reconciliation efforts were also highlighted. The discussants called for intra-Afghan dialogue, saying both militants and government were inclined to peacemaking.
President Ghani has made clear Afghanistan is ready to embrace its sons who are in quest of peace. And those intent on fighting will face a befitting response. Speaking to delegates from different countries including Contact International representatives in Kabul, he said: “We are fighting the war on terror in the interest of the entire world, not only for Afghanistan. The war isn’t only against foreign troops, it is aimed to destabilise Afghanistan and stymie its quest for peace...”
The masses, particularly youths, think peace in the country has been elusive due to neighbours’ meddling, rampant corruption, joblessness and the foreign military presence. A graduate from the Nangarhar University’s Linguistics and Literature Faculty, Mohammad Masoom Basiri, described foreign troop deployment as the most formidable challenge to peace.
A resident of the Bagrami district of Kabul, Hezbullah Aryan Ahmadzai, linked a peaceful Afghanistan to cooperation from neighbours and the US. If they want, he says, the country can be stabilised.
Eid Mohammad Maram, a dweller of the Mata Khan district of Khost province, ascribed insecurity to lack of commitment from the government and the fighters, half-hearted support from neighbours and Afghanistan’s ineffective foreign policy. Bahlol Bilal, an NGO worker from the central capital, also tied insecurity to growing unemployment.
Pajhwok reporters Azizullah Hamdard, Shabnam Shahzad, Naseer Ahmad Siddiqui, Susan Orya, Meena Maram, Gul Rahman Rahmani and Abdul Waris Himmat contributed to this report.
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