By Dr. Zia Nezam
18 years of war has spilt the blood of many thousands of Afghans and their international partners. The bitter struggle for Afghanistan’s future has destroyed many billions of dollars of property and infrastructure and has put at risk our environment.
Currently, establishing nationwide peace is the shared aspiration of Afghans, Americans, most of the Taliban, and seemingly the people of Pakistan. The sought-after peace must not mean returning to a Taliban-led Islamic state where women – half the population – are excluded education, public life, and work outside the home. Freedom of speech and virtually any democratic value did not exist 18 years ago, and Afghanistan was then a refuge for international terrorists to launch terrorist acts wherever possible. A peace that rolls back Afghanistan’s progress is useless like the 1988 Geneva peace agreement that led to the withdrawal of Soviet forces. We learn from history or we are doomed to repeat it.
An honorable peace to be durable must preserve democratic achievements and our societal evolution. A cease-fire is the first step toward peace. A cease-fire is the concrete commitment of parties wanting peace. Without a cease-fire, “peace talks” are simply cynical political theater to gain advantage. Continuing near-daily attacks causing heavy casualties to Afghan security forces and citizens as the Taliban talks peace is unacceptable.
It would be wrong to think that the American willingness to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, alone, brought the Taliban to the negotiating table and opened the way for peace. The Taliban’s perception that the US forces were going to withdraw caused the Taliban to ignore the democratically elected government of Afghanistan as a negotiating party. However, on the contrary, beginning a dialogue that could bring peace has been the result of the sustained, courageous operations and sacrifices of our Afghan security forces in hand with two factors of the South Asian strategy of the current US administration: assisting Afghan security forces in offensive operations and the necessary pressure placed on Pakistani authorities, facing governmental bankruptcy, to stop harboring and safeguarding various terrorist groups who plague Afghanistan. Of equal weight in considering dialogue is the high number of casualties and the loss of many commanders the Taliban has incurred.
To restate, attacking the enemy terrorists and forcing their regional supporters to cooperate in a counter-terrorism strategy and Taliban reversals are the pre-eminent elements bringing about dialogue that may lead to peace.
In 2018 the war against Afghanistan’s terrorist insurgents intensified. The death toll for Afghan security forces and the terrorists has been steep. However, Afghan forces have not been daunted and continue to fight for their homeland. This gritty resistance coupled with the US government decreasing aid to Pakistan, playing its double game, has pushed the Taliban to begin considering peace. Rumors of wholesale US withdrawal (not being undertaken) at all costs and with disregard for the Afghan government and people was not the motive for a peace dialogue.
Peace is the stated desire of all parties, especially the Afghan people who have suffered much longer than 18 years. Yet, the world now knows that Afghan citizens will not accept a “peace” that compromises democratic gains, societal development, and fundamental human rights. Rushing into a deal without such safeguards would be folly. Thus, only a peace based on the recognition of these three essential conditions can be honorable and durable.
The writer is former ambassador to Vienna, Brussels and Rome