The Debate

It’s Time for a New Approach to Peace and Reconciliation in Afghanistan 

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The Debate | Opinion

It’s Time for a New Approach to Peace and Reconciliation in Afghanistan 

To change the status quo and place Afghanistan on a trajectory toward stability, the international community needs to take a new approach to dealing with the country.

It’s Time for a New Approach to Peace and Reconciliation in Afghanistan 
Credit: Farid Ershad on Unsplash

Two years and three months have passed since the Taliban’s forceful takeover of Afghanistan. 

In this period, fatigue and uncertainty, emanating from a lack of consensus in the international community on how and when to stabilize Afghanistan, has resulted in a deepening crisis of political instability, and deteriorating social and humanitarian conditions for the people of the country. 

However, the people of Afghanistan have not been silent or passive in the face of to the crisis facing them. In the past two plus years, Afghans from all walks of life, civil society, political forces, the youth, and the diaspora community outside Afghanistan have defended their national values, including democratic principles, such as human rights and other fundamental freedoms such as their right to self-determination.

The courageous women of Afghanistan have been at the forefront of this historic effort since August 22, 2021. The values they defend are embedded in the culture of Afghanistan and have been an important part of Afghanistan’s successive constitutions throughout the history of our nation.

More broadly, the people of Afghanistan have sought a solution that is viable and sustainable to overcome the current crisis. They have not fallen short in fulfilling their responsibility to strive to move beyond this difficult period and achieve a real peace in a stable and united Afghanistan. 

But the international community’s efforts have not been on a par with the efforts rendered by the people of Afghanistan, inside and outside the country. Nevertheless, the role of the international community remains relevant and vital for success. 

Since August 2021, the people of Afghanistan and the international community have given the Taliban a chance to deliver on what they promised in the Doha agreement: promises on the rights and freedoms of all Afghans, especially women and girls; on counterterrorism efforts to prevent Afghanistan from turning into a base for international terrorism; and on accepting talks and dialogue for establishing a government in which all Afghans are represented, and which can be the foundation for political stability and national unity. 

Yet, the situation remains dire and dangerous – not only for Afghanistan, but also for the region and beyond.

To change the status quo and place Afghanistan on a trajectory toward stability, a new approach needs to be adopted by the international community in dealing with Afghanistan. 

First, adjustments are needed in the international community’s engagement strategy with the Taliban. Thus far, discussions with the Taliban have mainly focused on reversing policies and decrees that infringe upon human rights, especially those of women and girls. 

While these issues are important, the message conveyed to the Taliban should broaden and expand. The continuation of the crisis in Afghanistan has political roots and a broader emphasis is needed to influence the Taliban toward having to accept a national dialogue to address these issues.

Second, time and experience have proven that dialogue and engagement alone have not led to any tangible progress to overcome the crisis. There is now a significant increase in political activity by a wide spectrum of political forces all searching for a solution to the crisis: namely civil society, womens groups, and a new generation of political figures.

Yes, it has been a challenge to coordinate among these different forces, and to motivate a convergence of views among these groups to develop a common political platform. But that is changing. There is now increased recognition among various Afghan political actors – moderates and conservatives alike – on the need to converge and form a national unity agenda.  

More Afghans now realize that such convergence is a precondition for any progress in reaching a comprehensive settlement, and that it will also incentivize a more organized international effort to stabilize and ensure real peace in a united Afghanistan.  

The international community should increase engagement with these various democratic forces to seek their views on the way forward, support their mobilization, and to incentivize the Taliban toward accepting dialogue and talks with political forces outside their own for a permanent solution. These can be the first steps to pave the way for a post-status quo scenario that leads to real peace in a united Afghanistan. 

Such engagement will have several benefits. It will address the pernicious narrative that there is no “other side” with whom the Taliban could engage in talks with on Afghanistan’s future. It will convey a message to the Taliban that they can be part of – but not the only – solution. And it will help prepare the ground for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations for a comprehensive solution.    

Most importantly, it will help start a process by which the people of Afghanistan are able to determine their future destiny. The formula that can best ensure stability and real peace in Afghanistan is one that emerges among the people and is reflective of their aspirations. 

Third, the international community should prioritize starting a political process under U.N. supervision for intra-Afghan negotiations. 

The need for an inclusive and representative government comprised of all of Afghanistan’s political, religious, and ethnic groups is now a stronger point of consensus among regional and Western countries alike.  This presents an opportunity and a basis to strengthen international consensus to resolve the crisis.  The U.N.-led meeting held in Doha in May was a first, but important, step in that direction. For the first time since the Taliban’s takeover, representatives of Western and regional countries came together in one setting to discuss a way forward. That process needs to gain traction with proper follow-up. 

The proposed next U.N.-led meeting on Afghanistan should also include representatives of the people of Afghanistan. This will provide an opportunity for the international community to hear views and recommendations of the people on how best to resolve and overcome the crisis. 

Moreover, a political road-map is needed to guide efforts of the people of Afghanistan and international community reach the comprehensive settlement that has eluded Afghanistan for more than four decades.   

This issue should be a priority in the international community’s efforts on Afghanistan.   

Fourth, better coordination and consensus among regional countries and broader international actors is needed for the way forward.

Reflecting on the past two-plus years since the events of August 2021, it is clear that the international community has not conducted efforts under a common agenda with clearly defined goals and objectives. This should change. 

The independent review by U.N. Special Coordinator on the international community’s approach on Afghanistan, which was mandated under U.N. Security Council resolution 2679, has concluded. It is expected that the independent assessment will conclude that international efforts on Afghanistan have been insufficient both in scope and activity to address the political, humanitarian and economic problems in Afghanistan. A new approach with direction, structure, and specific goals and objectives is recommended for the way forward. 

Such an approach should prioritize addressing the source of the crisis instead of its symptoms – a trend that has prevailed in the years since August 2021.  

Regional and Western countries alike should forge the consensus that is needed to enable the adoption of such a road-map, guiding the international community’s efforts. The formation of a new contact group on Afghanistan would certainly benefit focus, clarity, and a results-driven agenda to ensure progress on the political, economic, humanitarian, and other aspects of the current crisis. 

Moreover, we must not forget that the political crisis, resulting from a lack of an inclusive and legitimate government that is able to represent all the peoples of Afghanistan and promote national unity, remains the core of the crisis in Afghanistan.

Thus, an agenda for a national political settlement, driven by dialogue and consensus on the future of Afghanistan, particularly the composition and form of the future administration is a crucial need. The U.N. should take the lead in shaping the new international strategy for real peace and stability in Afghanistan,

Lastly, the people of Afghanistan favor a political solution over any other option. They demonstrated willingness and readiness to look beyond the past and begin a new chapter before and after the Taliban’s takeover. And they remain willing to do so today, should the Taliban be willing and able to meet their demands and reach a national political settlement. 

Now is the time for the international community to adopt a new approach and help raise the prospects for a comprehensive political settlement based on the Afghan people’s aspirations.