The complexity of global and regional security threats and their convergence in Afghanistan has begun to seriously worry regional and extra-regional stakeholders. Some of these actors have called for stepping up efforts to reinvigorate Afghanistan’s stalled peace process. The Afghan government welcomes any genuine efforts by its immediate and near neighbors, which help put an end to years of imposed war and violence in Afghanistan that daily claim innocent Afghan lives in their cities and villages. Indeed, success in this endeavor will not only stabilize Afghanistan, but will also ensure regional security as a precondition for enabling the Heart of Asia countries to address the ever-growing economic needs and demands of their nations.
The National Unity Government (NUG) is the legitimate, elected government of Afghanistan—representing all Afghans with equal rights under the country’s progressive constitution. The NUG enjoys the support of the Afghan people, who remain a strategic asset in the fight against terrorism and extremism. That is why the Taliban lack the national and moral legitimacy to represent the Afghan people, who reject terrorism perpetrated by the Taliban and their foreign terrorist allied networks in the name of Islam—a religion of peace, tolerance, and coexistence.
The Afghan government firmly believes in peace and has made every effort to reach reconciliation with those armed groups, which have demonstrated a genuine willingness to renounce violence, cut ties with terrorist networks and state-sponsors of terrorism, and opt for peace through a results-driven dialogue. In this regard, the Afghan government recently reached a successful political settlement with Hezb-e-Islami, through an intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation process, which took place in Kabul.
Encouraged by the hard peace efforts of the Afghan government and the progress it has made thus far, 650,000 Afghan refugees previously in Pakistan have returned home over the past year. This gives the Afghan government authentic hope in its ongoing pursuit of peace, which is the desire of every Afghan in and outside of their country.
Indeed, this is a clear example of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and how Afghans can proceed ahead. The Afghan government is grateful to the United Nations (UN) Security Council members and the Sanctions Committee for removing Mr. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from the Sanctions List and to the Russian Federation for their support in this respect. Under this process, current Afghan efforts focus on the steady implementation of the agreement that would contribute to sustainable peace across Afghanistan.
No Civil War
By no definition is the conflict in Afghanistan a civil war. In fact, Afghans of different ethno-sectarian backgrounds stand united behind President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, as they lead the prosecution of a just, defensive war against terrorism with regional and transnational roots. Twenty of the UN recognized terrorist groups—with fighters from many countries in the Heart of Asia region—are active in Afghanistan. Sadly, Afghanistan remains the regional and global battleground in the fight against terrorism, as the said terrorist groups operate in tandem with one another and together or separately they strive to create safe havens in the country—from where to launch regional and global terrorist attacks.
Terrorism and criminality are intertwined and fed by an illicit economy that further destabilizes Afghanistan and undermines regional security. Moreover, the availability of safe sanctuaries and institutional support for violent extremism in Afghanistan’s immediate neighborhood helps sustain a deadly and destructive war in the country. Without such a supportive infrastructure, the conflict in Afghanistan wouldn’t last long.
Even so, however, in 2015 and 2016, Afghanistan actively participated in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) meetings—which consisted of Pakistan, China, and the United States. Afghans hoped that the process would deliver on the commitments made by different countries. Indeed, the success of the QCG process squarely hinged on a set of clearly defined and agreed-upon benchmarks, which were not met. This increasingly proved that the key challenge to the process remained a policy selectivity by some to distinguish between good and bad terrorists, even though terrorism is a common threat that confronts the whole region where if one country doesn’t stand firm against it, others’ counter-terrorism efforts will not bear the results they all seek.
Five key dynamics underpin the situation in Afghanistan today. First, the international community continues to support the country’s stabilization and sustainable development. The United States leads international civil and military aid efforts, for which the Afghan people and government are grateful.
Moreover, the Afghan government appreciates the commitments made by different countries at the Warsaw Summit last July to support the Resolute Support Mission (RSM), which helps train and equip the Afghan forces to protect and defend their country. Equally important were the commitments made by many nations—including Afghanistan’s Western and regional allies, as well as Japan—at the Brussels Conference last October to continue supporting reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan.
Second, Afghanistan highly values its relations with the Muslim world, and appreciates the sincere support the country has received from some of the Muslim states. The fatwa issued in 2015 by the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia against all acts of terrorism, which violate the core tenets of Islam, and the communiqué issued in the same year by the Muslim World League Global Conference on Islam and Counter Terrorism in Makkah Al Mukarama, have effectively begun countering the un-Islamic narrative of extremists.
In the recent meeting of the International Contact Group (ICG) co-chaired by Afghanistan and Germany and hosted by the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah, the Afghan delegation welcomed the announcement by OIC of an International Muslim Ulema Conference on Afghanistan to be hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia soon. The Conference will condemn any acts of violence and terrorism carried out in Islam’s name in Afghanistan, while strongly supporting efforts by the Afghan government to reach sustainable peace.
Third, Afghans consider their country the center of a rising Asia where terrorism remains a common threat to the security of the entire continent, including: India, China, Russia, Iran, Central Asia, and others. In this connection, Afghanistan has recently captured a number of foreign terrorists, including a Kazakh considered to be one of the region’s most dangerous terrorists. He now talks about how global and regional networks recruit young men and women from countries in the region and indoctrinate them into becoming ruthless killers of their own people. That is why Afghanistan strongly believes that unless the countries of the region join hands in a common counterterrorism strategy against their common enemy, the principal security threat in Asia wouldn’t be defeated.
The fourth and fifth dynamics involve Afghanistan’s neighborhood and internal affairs. A lack of sincere regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism remains the biggest challenge. All stakeholders in the stabilization of Afghanistan must reach a consensus on how best to effect change in the behavior of certain state actors—who should prioritize peace against a self-defeating zero-sum mentality and to accept Afghanistan as a point of collaboration over confrontation. The Heart of Asia region possesses immense natural and human resources, which must be harnessed through regional cooperation for the shared progress and sustainable development of all countries within the immediate and near neighborhood of Afghanistan.
The Way Forward
From the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, it is clear that terrorism is not a short-term threat. It is a long-term threat to the peace and prosperity of the region and the whole world. This requires that the stakeholders in the region and beyond come together and summon up the collective resolve needed to address it. In the Afghan context, they should deliver a clear, unified message to the Taliban: That we all want peace and pursue it unrelentingly to the end; that the Taliban will not have anybody’s support in pursuit of their terrorist and murderous campaign; and that we want them to renounce violence, cut ties with regional and global terrorist networks, and embrace the strategic opportunity for peace talks.
M. Ashraf Haidari headed the Afghan delegation in the Six-Party Meeting on Peace in Afghanistan, hosted by the Government of the Russian Federation in Moscow on February 15, 2017. Mr. Haidari is the Director-General of Policy & Strategy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, and formerly served as the country’s Deputy Chief of Mission to India. Prior to this, he was Afghanistan’s Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor, as well as Afghan Chargé d’Affaires to the United States. He tweets @MAshrafHaidari.