Hamid Karzai in Moscow
by Fariba Pajooh
As the Taliban conducts peace talks with both the United States and Afghan political and ethnic groups, a clear vision for a final peace framework is starting to take shape.
But with Washington pushing for a fast resolution that may leave the Taliban with a stake in the Afghan government, many Afghan activists and analysts say that they fear negotiations will not result in a real, long-lasting peace.
For U.S.-Taliban peace talks to succeed, they say the devil will be in the details. Achieving an experimental peace framework between the Trump administration and the Taliban will allow Washington a way out of America’s longest war. Meanwhile, theTaliban has pledged to create an “all-inclusive” government. But details revealed on the sidelines of the talks provide no guarantee that the Taliban will not attempt a larger power grab after U.S. troops withdraw.
Without a significant Afghan presence in negotiations, analysts say it will be hard to guarantee that any final agreement won’t be followed by a repeat of the experiences of the 1990s, when the Taliban was accused of mass killings and eliminating basic civil rights.
“My concern about peace talks is the lack of Afghans in the talks. There are also not enough women at the talks, and negotiations are taking place behind closed doors,” says activist and former director of Open Society Afghanistan, Shaharzad Akbar. “I am worried about the emergence of a government that will put new strain on women’s social and political activities.”
Indeed, no ceasefire is in place as talks proceed. The Taliban is attending peace negotiations with the United States while continuing to fight the Afghan Army.Taliban fighters have repeatedly launched suicide attacks in the past six months, killing many civilians.
Thus, the perception on the ground is that the Taliban is setting the terms of the peace talks, while Washington has yet to assure Afghans that the Taliban will abide by any final deal.
The Taliban is demanding that the United States withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan, but many analysts, civil society activists, and Afghan citizens are worried about rushing the removal of U.S. troops, recalling the experience of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan as a result of the Geneva peace talks in 1988. The Soviet drawdown ultimately led to the collapse of Najibullah’s government and the onset of the civil war in Afghanistan.
Political opponents of the Afghan government are also afraid the United States will leave Afghanistan’s fate to the whims of Pakistan or the Taliban. They say that there is no guarantee that the government and political order America has spent 17years building and defending—at enormous cost—will survive. Critical values, such as freedom of speech and a free media, women’s rights, civil rights and education, are all at risk.
American officials have said that the new generation in Afghanistan should defend its own rights and freedoms. Washington’s presence in Afghanistan costs $45 billion per year, with an annual $5 billion spent on Afghan security forces, $13 billion a year for 14,000 American soldiers stationed in the country, and the remainder spent on providing agricultural and economic assistance to Afghanistan.
Although the American public understandably welcomes an end tothe war, a comprehensive peace deal and complete American withdrawal from Afghanistan remain a complicated proposition.
“I am worried that these steps in the peace process, which were created without the consultation of the Afghan government and its American representative, will cause chaos,” says Massoud Hossaini, an Afghan photojournalist who won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. “Liberties will be eliminated and the civil war will re-ignite.”
Nevertheless, some political activists are cautiously optimistic about the peace talks.
“If the Taliban abandons arms and violence and strives to achieve political ends, we can be optimistic about peace talks,” says Abdullah Khenjani, the head of news and current affairs at Kabul-based 1TV. “It’s not easy, but peace requires cost and we need to pay the cost. It’s better than the long-term struggles with no gain.”
Khenjani says that the United States is likely to accept the Taliban having “their own political share” in Afghanistan’s governance because the chief U.S. foreign policy goal in Afghanistan has always been to fight terrorism, not to bring “moral values and spread democracy.”
In any case, the Trump government is trying to find an immediate solution to end the longest war in American history. If the talks lead to a full deal, U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan within 18 months, with Washington leaving a limited American presence on the ground. “I’ll leave intelligence there and if I see nests forming, I’ll do something about it,” President Trump told Face the Nation in early February.
On Tuesday, Afghan political groups arrived in Moscow for a new round of talks with the Taliban. This meeting between the Taliban representatives and an Afghan delegation led by former President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan seems to have changed the dynamic of the peace negotiations. The Taliban, in the final resolution of the Moscow Summit, stated that the Afghan Constitution is unreliable, women’s rights would be respected in the framework of Islamic values, and the Islamic system would be widespread in the country. However, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that the participants in the Moscow summit do not represent Afghanistan. With all this, what is categorically true is that a lasting and comprehensive peace deal cannot be achieved quickly.
“The end to the Afghan war is desirable,” says Hossaini, the photojournalist. “But will the end of the war mean losing everything that the United States has been building up since 2001?”
Fariba Pajooh is a writer and journalist who has been reporting on Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East for over 15 years. She graduated from Medill School at Northwestern University and has written for Iran’s Shargh newspaper as well as Euronews, Buzzfeed, NPR, RFI, and other outlets.