Ahmad Mohibi offers a prognosis for peace in a nation sick from prolonged conflict and corruption
After 17 years of war, Afghanistan is on life-support. It is plagued with chronic violence, corruption, political divergence and proxy wars. The international community is running out of ideas on how to how to handle the situation, although the US Administration continues to commit troops to the region.
One suggestion is to open negotiations with the Taliban, the insurgent group which attacks the current government of Afghanistan and longs to see American soldiers defeated. This year, there have been developments towards negotiations involving the Taliban. According to some reports, they could form part of the peace process going forward. But that does not reduce the threat they currently pose.
In August, the Taliban carried out a series of deadly attacks throughout Afghanistan, leaving over 500 people dead. Taliban forces held Ghazni over five long days before an Afghan-US coalition removed them.
A complex disease
The Afghan case is complicated and has competing diagnoses. The origins of the disease can be traced back to the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union that spilled into Afghanistan, creating a perfect host for terrorist groups such al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The conflict retains a strong international dimension. Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran all pump life into the Taliban, while America tries to contain them.
There is resentment within Afghanistan at the extensive role other countries play in their nation’s affairs, often providing the weapons which fuel the devastating war. Many Afghans believe that their nation has turned into a frontline of proxy wars and terrorism because of its strategic location and its abundance of natural resources. They also tend to blame their neighbours – in particular Pakistan – for making things worse.
The Pakistan factor
Pakistan has long been a barrier to peace in Afghanistan. A dispute over land, the Durand Line Agreement, is an ongoing source of conflict among the competing political interests and may not have a near-term resolution.
And Pakistan has been a motherland for the Taliban, from the creation of the insurgency in the 1990s to now. Hospitals in Pakistan treat wounded Taliban soldiers and in border regions, the state has held funerals for Pakistani fighters.
However, Pakistan now has the opportunity to take firm action to close terrorist safe-havens and shut down the religious schools or madrasas which breed fundamentalist Taliban fighters. Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, has called for a resolution to the Afghan war through a political dialogue which includes the Taliban. He has promisedAfghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, that he will visit Kabul soon.
Iran and its enemy
Another pressure point is Iran, a Muslim nation which shares a language, religion and border with Afghanistan. Iran considers the United States as its enemy. It has therefore been playing a destructive game of politics in Afghanistan and supports hardline Taliban factions which oppose peace talks. If Russia, Pakistan, Iran and the United States could unite in a common goal of stamping out terrorism, the prospects of peace in Afghanistan would improve.
Although the future of Afghanistan will depend on the way it is treated by foreign actors, peace also needs to rise to the top of the domestic agenda.
Afghans suffer from prolonged ethnic conflict that has resulted in devastating civil wars. Afghanistan – renamed from Khurasan – has roughly 14 ethnic groups, the two largest being Tajik and Pashtun. Although there is no accurate data as to which is the largest ethnic group, Pashtuns claim to be the majority and therefore claim the right to rule the nation. Other ethnic groups, such as the Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks, have historically attempted to gain power by placing one of their own clan on the presidential throne.
Hatred among the political leaders of the different ethnic groups has spread like a disease through their communities. Discrimination and racism continue from generation to generation. It is like an open pot that any insects can dig in and feed themselves. To bring peace in Afghanistan, Afghans must learn from their mistakes and work as one for the national interest.
Help from outside
The international community can foster change by supporting more education, helping with infrastructure redevelopment and monitoring the progress against corruption and social injustice. This would empower Afghans to build resilience against the groups which jeopardise their national security.
Ultimately, though, the future of Afghanistan depends on its people. Good governance, transparent elections, economic development, education and ethnic harmony all lie along the path to peace. Afghans must realise that discrimination is ruining the nation, corruption is feeding terrorism, division is breaking the values of what it means to be an Afghan. When they recognise those challenges and commit to overcome them, they can begin taking some faltering steps towards a lasting peace.