The World Economic Forum this year in Davos, Switzerland, made clear the unfortunate stress that continues to increasingly pressure Afghani Officials. In Davos, President Ashraf Ghani vocalized his frustration at witnessing the death of 45,000 security personnel since he has taken office. While the outcry and voices of despair are ignored, as Afghani officials have not been fully integrated into the negotiations, top diplomats and Western officials continue to press for a deal during the negotiations with the Taliban that were initiated at the beginning of this year. With a framework that has almost been finalized without the input of Kabul, massive controversy has arisen with regards to whether such conditions will be accepted by the Taliban and if peace can actually be achieved without the presence of U.S. military personnel. There have been ongoing debates as to who should have a seat at the table and the importance of the Ghani government having a dialogue with the Taliban. Western powers should acknowledge the importance of China, Pakistan, and Russia in leading the negotiations towards the intra-Afghani dialogue. If ongoing negotiations can pivot to including such an important component, the international community may be able to avoid another power vacuum in the Middle East.
With a weak and unstable government, Ghani and his officials have become more vulnerable towards the economic interests of dominant countries such as China due to their dependency on foreign aid. Afghanistan is the last piece of the “Silk Road” that China has yet to secure. Despite their obvious interests, China has been on “the bleachers” during negotiations, which is notable as Pakistan has been China’s intermediary country for voicing Chinese desire to actualize the economic potential of the region. While some may attribute this to the personal interests of China, their desire for peace in the region aligns with the interests of other players, as they are clear about their concerns of terror near their border. China’s interests closely align with that of Pakistan, as they desire counterterrorist strategy and border security. If they were to be integrated into the discussions, not only would it strengthen Pakistan’s position, but it would also allow Afghanistan to utilize investment and economic interests of regional players for its reconstruction and recuperation.
As for NATO members, many of them have poured millions of dollars in the region, only for the U.S. to exclude them from negotiations. For years, NATO countries have been sending foreign aid to Afghanistan (in 2016 international donors pledged $15.2 billion by 2020) but with the conflict and negotiations seemingly unending, key European countries that have been involved in Afghanistan for years are no longer willing to cooperate. Donor fatigue is a looming crisis, as the removal of U.S. troops in the region would end the facilitation of such aid, which constitutes 90 percent of Afghanistan’s health funding. Many Eurozone diplomats that desire to counter donor fatigue find it crucial to stick together, finding it their only leverage to ensure that there are legitimate channels of aid and investment in the country if negotiations were to yield a ceasefire and end to Taliban attacks. Incorporating countries with economic interests could prove to be crucial, as Afghanistan is in desperate need of infrastructure, humanitarian aid, and future options for economic growth if the dust ever settles from the ongoing conflict.
It’s harder than ever for governments in Kabul, Islamabad, Washington, and others to continue justifying the presence of foreign forces as the Taliban continue to gain ground. The core of the issue stems from multiple issues: U.S. pressure and its time frame for removing troops, doubts over whether the Taliban can keep its side of the bargain, and uncertainty over whether Intra-Afghani dialogue is possible. For the last concern, it’s encouraging to observe that countries that have been present in the area in the past for self-interested reasons, such as Russia, are now bringing together countries that are deeply affected by the outcome, such as Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Russia was able to function as a broker between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul. While in general the U.S., Russia, and China have competing interests, these unlikely partners share a common goal of crafting peace in the region.
History cannot repeat itself: a consensus must be reached amongst Western countries and regional powers, or else chaos similar to the events following the Paris Peace Accords in Vietnam in 1973 or the Geneva Accords in 1988 is likely to follow the current Taliban negotiations. Seeing that Russia, for now, has been the country that has gone the furthest in creating Intra-Afghani dialogue, they must be included more centrally at the negotiating table. Russia can bring together countries in the region of Central Asia to further discuss solvency in regards to avoiding the conflict spilling over to other areas and for potential diplomatic and economic ties in the future.
What could prove to be another component in creating this “perfect negotiating table”, is to incorporate the feedback that President Ghani and Afghanistan’s national security adviser, Hamidullah Mohib, have been voicing for quite a while. Suspicion and lack of communication have highlighted the relationship between the U.S. government and officials in Kabul. For years Washington has been rebuffing offers of peace talks with the Taliban, as they did not want to legitimize the Taliban’s assertion that the Kabul government is a “puppet” of the U.S. government. With Trump’s drastic change of policy from initially sending additional troops to later promising to pull all of 14,000 of them out and create peace with Taliban, such negotiations without Kabul are truly a symbolic justification in favor of the Taliban and their claim to be the true government of the Afghani people. Furthermore, the U.S. is alienating the Kabul government as they continue to craft the “framework” of a peace deal without the vital component of intra-Afghani dialogue. With the recent round in Doha finished, and the fact that the Taliban met many opposition Afghani politicians in Russia, the U.S. must ensure that they incorporate Kabul and reflect their genuine desire for peace. The more isolated the talks become, the more people will believe that they are crafted by elites, thus creating suspicion and stalling the final peace deal. The conditions of the Doha round could prove to be the parameters that yield successful results, as Haroon Chakhansuri, the spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, voiced his support of the negotiations. As for the Taliban, their side of the negotiations often go to serve U.S. interests, as they try to implement enforcement mechanisms on their pledge of stopping terrorist attacks. Truly, the most central issues are obtaining the Taliban’s denouncement of Al-Qaeda and the time-frame of U.S. troops being removed from Afghanistan. While there is great progress, the toughest decision is yet to come.
The question that has stalled the final part of negotiations is whether the Taliban can keep a pledge that entails them ceasing attacks and ending the harboring of terrorist organizations in the area. If the Taliban do not keep their pledge, many political analysts have come to the consensus that after American troop removal, Central Asia, Pakistan and even India would be threatened by their presence and connections. Even with the presence of foreign troops, the Taliban has been regaining areas that were previously under the control of Kabul and American forces. Such a fact coupled with the alarming information that the Taliban have found refuge in North Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) (which is under the protection of the Haqqani network) has led many to speculate that the negotiations will collapse given unanimous aversion among stakeholders to a reinvigorated conflict. Since the Taliban’s connections with factions of regional extremist organizations and its network in Pakistan, the U.S. must be tactical and prudent in incorporating Pakistan at the right moment for future security implications. While it is true that Pakistan feels pressure from China in such negotiations, including Pakistan in the negotiations could allow the U.S. to regain its clout in Islamabad. Moreover, in order to ensure that smaller militant groups do not regain power in the region, Pakistan must be included as it has experience and deals with such groups.
A peaceful Afghanistan is a beautiful sight that many are striving to create, yet it requires concessions, sacrifices, and for major players to place their grudges and rivalries aside. Whether it be the economic interests of countries such as China, the security experience of Pakistan and its logistical support for the U.S., the constructive criticism of the Ghani government, and even the efforts of Russia for intra-Afghani dialogue, all named actors must be involved in the negotiating table to ensure a stable and lasting peace deal. Such a change could prove hard for the U.S. and its NATO allies, as time runs out to solidify negotiations. But in the end, all actors involved deserve better and the people of Afghanistan deserve peace.
Photo: “U.S. troops in Afghanistan“