If there is no military solution to end the war in Afghanistan, as many agree, then a negotiated political agreement is the only way out. So what’s being done to advance the peace process? Very little, according to everyone we interviewed on a recent research trip to Kabul.
The Kabul government’s peace and reconciliation process, which began last year, has ground to a halt, according to the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, an independent research center in Kabul. It never had much momentum to begin with, and it was abruptly suspended in September when the head of the High Peace Council, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated by an insurgent suicide bomber pretending to be an emissary of the Taliban.
The peace process is fake, said a former government official. The insurgents distrust the government and foreign forces and are not serious about negotiating. The Kabul government has no interest in sharing power with insurgents, and its officials do not want to lose their economic and political privileges.
The United States has made some efforts to encourage talks, but it has also adopted a ‘fight and talk’ strategy, which means shooting at the very people you supposedly want to engage. This is “not helpful to the negotiating process,” said one of the researchers. U.S. night raids and airstrikes are poisoning the atmosphere that is needed to facilitate meaningful dialogue and confidence building. They are killing mid-level commanders who may be needed to achieve reconciliation.
Pakistan wants a seat at the table and has made clear its ability and intention to derail any negotiating process to which it is not a party.
Meanwhile the average citizen has been sidelined. The Kabul government has not communicated its intentions to the public and seems to have no intention of involving ordinary citizens in resolving armed hostilities. For the Afghan people the transition process has no meaning, said a former official. “The people have no clue” what peace is supposed to mean, he said.
This is the exact opposite of what civil society experts in Afghanistan and the United States have urged. A recent report published by the U.S. Institute of Peace, written by Lisa Schirch of 3P Human Security, lays out parameters for an inclusive peace process that involves all social and ethnic groups within Afghan society. Assuring that Afghan citizens are fully engaged offers a strategy for addressing the underlying causes of the conflict and building a broad base of stakeholders committed to upholding human rights in any negotiated agreements.