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Kabul Process, people’s attitude and four decades of peace talks

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Compiled by the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies

Afghanistan is hosting the international conference of “Kabul Process”. It is going to be held in Kabul and representatives of some 25 international organizations and countries will attend the event. “Kabul Process” meeting will focus on “peace talks” and “coordination of efforts against terrorism”.

The Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani in a meeting with foreign ambassadors and representatives of international organizations at the presidential palace, held on June 2 2017 said that the “Kabul Process”, will find an Afghan led process for making peace with the Taliban and the other armed groups fighting against the Afghan Government.

The “Kabul Process” is important, because it is providing the basis for peace. But this stage setting raises a serious question: Did the Afghan Government- during the last few years – spend so much time and financial resources without considering a firm “foundation”? During this period of time, several efforts were made for peace and stability such as the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, Afghan Peace Jirga, Afghan High Peace Council, Istanbul meetings and the recent quadrilateral meeting between Afghanistan, US, Pakistan and China. Were all these efforts a part of a trial and error project?

Regardless of what foundation is going to be set up by the Afghan Government, during the last two years, the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies has published two valuable research papers on the problem of peace talks in Afghanistan. The first paper titled “Afghan People Attitudes and Perceptions toward Peace Talks between the Government and the Taliban” was published in March 2016. It was a survey conducted across 15 provinces of Afghanistan to assess the extent of failure or success of the peace talks. The second paper titled “Four Decades of Efforts for Peace and Reconciliation in Afghanistan” waspublished in 2017. This paper was a qualitative analysis of the impediments and barriers to sustainable peace during the last four decade.

Through unbiased and scientific surveys, the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies has attempted to draw a clear picture of the people’s perception of the peace processes. The Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies hopes that these policy papers can help policy-makers and other stakeholders to find endurable solutions for problem of peace talks. This is a brief review of the above-mentioned research papers:

Afghan People Attitudes and Perceptions toward Peace Talks between the Government and the Taliban

Key Findings:

According to theresults of this survey,70.6% of the respondents believed that the government’s peace talks with the Taliban had “failed”. Besides, 21.5 % of them believed that it was “partly successful”. The respondents (1,540 people) believed that the amount of the success of the National Unity Government to establish peace was 28.61%.

The major concerns of the respondents regarding the government’s reconciliation with the Taliban were: Compromising the rights of the people (25%), Failing to bring peace (20%), Lack of transparency in the peace process (19%), and ignoring the women’s rights (14.3%), Disregarding the Constitution (13.7%).

Almost 68% of the respondents opined that, “the plans to absorb the armed oppositions to the peace process” were unsuccessful. The biggest obstacles to achieve peace in Afghanistan were listed as: Weak administration and widespread corruption (almost 34%), the Taliban (almost 20%),Nationalism and Tribalism (11.4%),Poverty and illiteracy of the people (11.2%),Local war lords and drug lords (8.2%),Presence of the foreign forces (almost 6%). Approximately 48% of the respondents believed that “Pakistan and countries in the region” benefited the most from the war and insecurity in Afghanistan. While 20% of the respondents believed that “America and the West” benefited from the war and insecurity, about 17% considered that the “corrupt government officials” benefited from the situation.

33.6% of the respondents believed that the “interference of the neighboring andregional countries” was the main factor responsible for the failure of the government’sPeace Talk with the Taliban. Almost 31% of the respondents saw “the weakness of the Afghan Government” as the reason of the failure. About 14% of the respondents felt “the interference of the America and the West” as the main cause of the failure. And 9.4% of the respondents pointed that the failure was because of “not including people in the peace talks”. The most important weaknesses of the High Peace Council were listed as:Being a symbolic Council (19.9%), corrupt ion (16.4%), Lack of necessary independence and competence (16.2%), Lack of public support (14%), foreign interference in its matters (11.4%).The majority of the respondents (70.7%) believed that “the government authorities do not have consensus about peace with the Taliban”.

Almost 86% of the respondent’s described the importance of the people’s role in the peace process as “high” (54.4%) and “very high” (31.4%).Nearly 62% of respondents stressed on the importance of the women’s role in peace making.

Almost 77% of the respondents believed that the Taliban act ions “are unacceptable”.Relatively majority of the respondents (28.4%) saw the main reason of the Taliban fighting as “assuring Pakistan’s interests”.63.3% of the respondents considered it appropriate to call the Taliban as “enemy”.From respondents’ point of view, Afghanistan’s Ulema Council can have the greatest impact on the peace talks’ success.

Based on the research finding, the researchers of this survey gave the following suggestions for promoting peace in society.

Recommendations:

To understand and emphasize on the importance of people’s role in bringing peace.

To consider the regional and international actors’ role in the peace building in Afghanistan.

To preserve the achievements of the past 14 years.

Transparency in the peace talks process.

To reform the High Peace Council.

To use the capacity of Ulema in Afghanistan for peace-building.

To use mass media in promoting peace.

To empower Afghan armed forces.

Analysis of the Four Decades of Efforts for Peace and Reconciliation in Afghanistan

This research report was an effort to present a roadmap for achieving a well-deserved peace and successfully continuing Peace Talks with the armed opposition groups. The analysis was based on understanding the historic factors for Peace Talks and negotiations failure in the last four decades. The report analyzed factors of disputes and war from April 27, 1978 Coup to date. Moreover, the report intended to identify the main challenges towards peace and to highlight the incentives for peace amid the peace negotiations.

Considering ethnic, lingual and religious diversity and gender balance, the researchers interviewed 32 political leaders and intellectuals.

The researchers divided the four decades under consideration into analyzing periods and organized interview questions in accordance to the following four main topics: external factors or regional and global dynamism of conflict and peace; internal factors or social, economic, political and cultural dynamism in the country; efforts and obstacles in achieving peace; and fundamental mechanisms to cross conflict and achieve sustainable peace.

Key Findings:

The war in Afghanistan was significantly affected by internal and external factors. These factors have affected disputes and resulted in the continuation of violence and conflict in the country for a long time. However, the effect of these factors varied in the past four decades due to the transition of dynamism in regional politics, competition between great powers, and social and political dynamism within Afghanistan and the process of evolution in the country. The continuation of war and internal problems interlinked with external interests have caused internal and external complexity in the country. This has been considered one of the main reasons for continuation of violence and an obstacle in the way of restoring peace. Additionally, weakness of some regional states and existence of non-state actors has been another main obstacle for restoring peace, resulting in the continuation of violence in the region, particularly in Afghanistan. Some parts of challenges facing Peace are related to identity crisis and ethnical rivalries that have roots beyond boundaries within states’ structures. The problem of identity and ethnicity leaves national foundations unstable and increases internal problems with regional disputes by highlighting shared historic values and supporting of ancestral cousins. Afghanistan is still fragile by this fact and has not overcome the problem of identity and ethnicity.

The report revealed that in addition to the ethnical leaders’ politics, the monopoly of power and the inability of the government for providing public basic needs have caused general dissatisfaction in the states. Increase of corruption in the governmental entities could lead to more distrust between the people and the government and persuade them to seek for local alternatives to solve their problems. The interviewees also highlighted the fact that corruption and injustice would lead to an increase in local rivalries and would distance the people from the central government. This could significantly lead to spread of violence and could reduce the conception of rule of law.

According to the interviewees, underdevelopment and poverty were other major factors that thrust people toward violence and violent groups such as Taliban. Some people used such factors to foment insecurity and provide opportunity for illegal livelihood. Social and political fragmentation has been considered a major obstacle for achieving successful peace talks. Any disagreement on concept or difference in opinion amongst leaders of National Unity Government or political leaders of different movements would negatively affect the outcome of national reconciliation. Hence, this could reduce efforts to restore peace in the country. Therefore, the interviewees expressed that a national consensus and understanding of the outcomes of Peace Talks with armed oppositions and well-explained definitions of national expectations were required initially. Once national consensus was achieved, regional consensus was required to change conflict and violence policy of regional countries by considering regional dimensions of conflict in Afghanistan. Such a regional consensus would take time and hard efforts and diplomatic measures were required to pursue it. According to the interviewees, activating the foreign policy by gaining support of the great powers was the need of the hour. A part of the problem was linked with conflict of interest with some of the regional powers and neighbors of Afghanistan.

According to the interviewees, two-sided negotiations were required for executing direct peace talks of the Afghan Government with the Taliban and understanding the role of Pakistan and other state actors in the region. On one hand, the government must make sure to use all diplomatic measures in engaging with Pakistan and other regional stateactors for achieving a comprehensive agreement, and on another hand, there should be direct talks with the Taliban. Majority of the interviewees believed that Taliban’s demands to engage in talks with the USA; the Afghan Government’s with Pakistan or talks with Taliban through Pakistan were inconclusive. In addition to this were the Geneva Accords signed between Afghanistan and Pakistan during Dr. Najibullah’s government and the Mujahidin session with Russia which resulted in Peace Talks failure at the time.

Based on internal and external complexity of conflict dimensions in Afghanistan, the majority believe that the High Peace Council can only operate technical or internal activities of the Peace Talks. The council cannot fulfill diplomatic aspects of the Peace Talks.

In conclusion, this research report reiterated that the peace talks must proceed in a win-win approach in order to include both sides’ legitimate interests in the talks. A lose-win strategy or defeat-by-war and military pressure could be a short-term solution but it could not guarantee a final solution. Therefore, the report recommended the following suggestions:

To the Government:

  1. Given the failed experience of avoiding direct negotiations between the government and the armed opposition, efforts should be made with the focus on direct talks between the government and the Taliban.
  2. To restore peace and stability in the country, a military strategy alone is not enough, therefore the policy of “stick and carrot” should be strongly pursued to bring the opposition on the negotiation table. The government should seek a political solution to the conflicts within the framework of win-win strategy.
  3. To ensure the unity of voices and domestic accordance, an agreement should be achieved over peace and war between the government leadership, political parties and influential social figures. The plurality of voices undermines the peace efforts and reduces the probability of success in the negotiations with the armed opposition.
  4. The government should try to alternate the ethnic discourse of the current politic approaches in the country which one way or another interferes with the peace process with the armed opposition and prevent its success, with a national approach aims to reach a national consensus towards peace and having a fair cohabitation. As a result, the fears and doubts over the changes of the power balance in case of the success of negotiations with the armed opposition and their integration to the current political system will fade away.
  5. The High Peace Council as an impartial and professional institution in charge of technical affairs of peace process must be restructured and must have the required transparency in all its financial affairs so it can attract the trusts of all sides including the armed opposition. The council should not be an obstacle to the peace attempts by the religious scholars, and civil and social institutions.Rather, it should have the authority to make the ultimate decision about accepting or rejecting the plans and social initiatives of the religious and civil institutions which are about the direct negotiations with the armed opposition.
  6. Given the requirements of the current regional and international policies, and the link between the internal problems and struggles of the country and the external factors, the government must put away the policy of inaction and seek a clear and active diplomacy in relation to the regional platform of peace.The government must take the initiation in this matter which is the most substantial part of the country’s national interest. The most concerning issue was the emergence of extremist and violent groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) in Afghanistan. The extremist and violent groups should not be allowed to use the disputes such and Eastern and Western divisions to their advantage, and revive the proxy war in Afghanistan between the regional and global powers, as it happened during the Cold War.
  7. The government must take the initiative to enforce current plans with an explicit strategy for the developments of the power relations structures in the region towards Afghanistan and to change the policy of competitive political geography to the economic geography which connects the different potential economic zones in the region.
  8. The government must start special programs and projects in relation to the reform of religious education system and prevent extreme views from spreading in the country.
  9. By strengthening good governance and ensuring transparency and accountability in the administrative and judicial system, the government should improve public satisfaction in order to provide the social context of balanced development and eliminate the centrifugal tendencies and the desire to fight with the official institutions.
  10. The government should take on special programs for young people and prevent them from selecting options of “leaving” or “violence”.

To the Political Parties and Civil Society Organizations:

  1. Given the vulnerability and fragility of the political situation, political parties and civil society organizations as supervising institutions and regulators of the government actions and policies, must pursue a reforming policy and replace the fragmented, even though marginal, “attenuator” or “subversive” efforts with the new policy. This is the need of the hour because any possible power vacuum or anticipations for the change of government could bring hope to the armed opposition for new opportunities and cause a problematic delay in the reconciliation process or even lead to its failure.
  2. Political parties and civil society organizations, especially religious and academic institutions must play a strong role in mobilizing public opinion towards peace and fair cohabitation and their role as the basis or assistant for the official government efforts for peace must be recognized.
  3. Political parties and civil society organizations must play an innovative and active role in the process of peace and reconciliation and must not wait for the outcome of the government efforts through the High Peace Council or the diplomatic agency of the country.

To the International Community:

  1. In addition to the current economic and political support of the political system of Afghanistan, the international community must support the government peace plans and impose the necessary pressures and sanctions on the states that sponsor terrorism and extremism, in order to force them into participating in the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
  2. Any decrease of support or diversion of policy of the necessary focus on the situation of Afghanistan could have disastrous consequences for the international community. Therefore, it is expected that the NATO countries and other partner countries, regard Afghanistan as a regional center of new developments and intersection of emerging powers competition. Concrete and comprehensive programs through regional and international platforms are required to restore political stability and to end the violence and extremism in Afghanistan and the region.