After almost 50 years of violent conflict, is Afghanistan heading for a sustainable peace?by Gabrielle Rifkind / February 15, 2019 / Leave a comment
Afghanistan is at a critical juncture. In recent days, a fragile framework has been arrived at that seeks to end almost 50 years of violent conflict. Most Afghans are tired of war and yearn for peace—but caution needs to be exercised. Any hastily ushered-in agreement could once again leave the country in chaos and repeat the mistakes of the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
50 per cent of peace deals breakdown, often when small elite groups make agreements that exclude the hopes and dreams of the majority of the population. Can the recent talks learn from some of the lessons of peacebuilding and put an end to the current bloody chapter in Afghanistan’s history?
The 2001 Bonn Agreement was intended to re-create the state of Afghanistan following the US’s invasion in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At the time of these negotiations, a senior Afghan politician identified the dangers of foreigners making a peace deal between the four per cent thugs and the one per cent of extremists over the head of 95 per cent of the people.
There could be a danger of repeating this today. The political culture in Afghanistan is one of shifting alliances and back-room deals where warlords and extremists are the main beneficiaries of the spoils of war—and peace.
While the nature of peacebuilding may involve in the early stages an “ugly peace,” where elite bargains are made with the men of violence, this is ultimately unsustainable: the other 95 per cent of the people must feel that their voices are heard.
Of course, the men of violence do need to be brought around the table. Exclusion of the Taliban contributed to the long-term failure of the Bonn Agreement. Today, the Taliban are actively being courted by the international community as part of ending the civil war.
A preliminary framework is a product of six days of talks in Doha, Qatar, principally between Taliban officials and the US American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad. The contours of the deal being hammered out trades a US departure from Afghanistan for a more pragmatic, but still hardline, Taliban that promises not to collaborate with Al-Qaeda and Islamic State—but has so far refused to engage with the Afghan government, which they see as a puppet of the…