While Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has sought to negotiate with the Taliban to end the group’s wave of violence, talks could already be destined to fail.
The Kabul Process held its second session on February 28 after its inception in June 2017 with the participation of dozens of regional and global representatives. Ghani proposed an altruistic peace deal to the Taliban, despite his impulsive gesture of settling matters with them in the battlefield after a series of attacks by the group in January and February that inflicted severe casualties.
Had the Taliban agreed to accept the offer, Ghani’s peace proposal included approving amnesty for Taliban fighters, recognition of the Taliban as a political party, amending the constitution, and lifting sanctions on their leaders. The uniqueness of the offer lies in the fact that, unlike previous offers, it was not only directed toward Taliban, but also Pakistan.
Even though the peace proposal was vastly comprehensive and detailed, the Taliban will not indulge in armistice talks to negotiate peace right now for a litany of reasons.
First, Pakistan’s strategic depth policy in Afghanistan hasn’t changed despite immense pressure from the United States and its allies. In addition to funds and sanctuaries provided by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the country’s military intelligence agency, to the Taliban, the civilian government in Islamabad is also chipping in to contribute in radicalizing the region.
The state government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, led by Imran Khan, has recently increased its funding to Haqqania madrassa, otherwise known as “Jihad University.” Haqqania was founded and directed by Sami-ul-Haq (father of Taliban). Many of the Taliban leaders are alumni of the madrassa. The total amount of annual grants to Haqqania now exceeds $500,000. Imran Khan is a right-wing politician accused of furthering military generals’ agenda on civilian platform.
On the other hand, instead of relinquishing its use of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy after international pressure, Pakistan is retaliating. After the Trump administration paused aid to Pakistan, and influenced the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to put the country on its “grey list” as of this coming June for financing terrorism, Islamabad has started challenging U.S. interests in the region instead of revisiting its Afghan policy.
A few days ago Russia, against whom Pakistan was once allied with the United States during the Cold War, opened an honorary consulate in Peshawar following the Pakistani foreign minister’s visit to Moscow. This consulate could facilitate Russian funds and arms transfers to the Taliban easily.
Second, the conflict in Afghanistan has become more complicated with each passing year. With Iran, China, and Russia taking high stakes in the war, it is becoming increasingly difficult to agree on a consensus deal to end the war. These countries foresee the United States’ long-term stay in Afghanistan as a threat to their interests, while Afghanistan considers the U.S. presence its guarantor to prevent collapse of the state.
Third, the Afghan government has little incentive and no contingency plan in hand to forge a deradicalization framework for returning fighters. Local Taliban commanders have tremendous resources at their disposal via the drug trade, ransoms, and local tariffs. The alternative isn’t as profitable.
Fourth, rewarding the Taliban with governmental concessions could derail an already dented crumpled progress in Afghanistan. During the last 16 years we have learned that the integration of former guerrilla fighters (Mujahideen) has stymied institution building and contributed to a dilapidated state bureaucracy.
Mujahideen have plundered billions of aid dollars and swamped security services with countless generals, impeding reform. It is unclear in what capacity the Taliban could be accommodated in if they reconcile. For example, Mullah Daud Nazari, a Taliban commander, and his men laid their arms down in Herat in 2012. In an interview in 2017 with a research company, he said that many of the big promises made to him by the government were not fulfilled.
Fifth, the Taliban and Pakistan still consider the Afghan government oblivious. The Taliban’s recently publicized letter to the American government is an example of that. They have consistently asked to negotiate with the United States only, bypassing the Afghan government. In the letter, they urged the United States to withdraw its troops. The Taliban attempted to exonerate themselves to the American public by offering to negotiate. With a majority of U.S. forces drawing down by the end of 2014, Taliban intensified their fight.
Past precedent has proven that the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan while the state is still fragile is “an end condition,” and there is no guarantee that Pakistan will not continue its proxy war in Afghanistan. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the Mujahideen rejected persistent peace proposals by Mohammad Najibullah’s government, and fought until the collapse of the state in 1992, after which a bloody civil war erupted. The Mujahideen’s dissipation and unwieldiness made it difficult for Pakistan to maintain its influence on them, so the ISI counterpoised and eventually overran them through its new surrogates: the Taliban. Even ISI’s favorite, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was not spared. By urging the United States to withdraw, it isn’t obvious why Pakistan will not repeat the history and attempt to subdue the Afghan state once again.
Peace with the Taliban or any other group indulgent to Pakistani influence is far-fetched and peculiar today in Afghanistan. Even if the Taliban agreed to settle for peace, Pakistan has the capability to found a new radical group through dozens of its madrassas, exactly like they created Taliban after Mujahideen. The way forward is for the United States is to sustain pressure on Pakistan until it abandons condoning terrorist groups to project its policy in Afghanistan.
U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie recently said in a tweet that the U.S. Congress is going to allocate $50 billion to the Afghan war in the next fiscal year, more than U.K.’s entire defense budget. That could swing the longest war U.S. has ever been involved in toward a decisive end. On the other hand, the Afghan government should prudently continue to neutralize warlords, fight corruption and reform the security apparatus while expanding trade and transit with Central Asia, India, China and Gulf nations to wean itself economically off Pakistan.
Samim Arif is an Afghan Fulbright scholar. He studied Political Journalism and Public Relations at Indiana University.