During the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, the matter of peace with the Taliban has become contingent upon the emergence of a new government, which is something much-awaited and directly related to Afghanistan’s future. Peace negotiations with the insurgent group broke down after US President Donald Trump declared them “dead” in the aftermath of a Taliban bombing that killed an American service member in early September. Meanwhile, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) which was supposed to announce the scheduled preliminary results of Sept. 28 presidential election on Oct. 19 postponed them for an indefinite period. This is while the electoral watchdogs dub the IEC’s negligence in announcing the results on time as ‘alarming and suspicious’. The delay in results’ announcement came because, based on some circulated rumors, one of the front-runners didn’t accept them, calling for further time – an action that overtly undermines the independence of the IEC.
On top of all that, the US Defense Secretary Mark Esper reportedly on Sunday arrived on an unannounced and first visit in Kabul with an aim to jumpstart the peace talks. He is reportedly poised to meet with the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as he told reporters that “I hope we can move forward and come up with a political agreement that meets our ends and meets the goals we want to achieve.” This remark of his portends that the US is still trying to extricate themselves from Afghanistan’s mire but only to meet their own ends, regardless of whether they are justifiable. His foray at this juncture of uncertainty regarding the polls’ results is also questionable because some see it as another US mediation – just like the one in 2014 by the former US Secretary of State John Kerry – between the frontrunners, President Ghani and CEO Abdullah, who have both yet again claimed victory in the polls.
The current state of play and uncertainty in Afghanistan are worrisome. This is because one of the Afghan presidential candidate and a warlord-turned politician, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has said that an interim government must be formed for impartial supervision before holding any run-off or future election in the country, on one hand, and on the other, it has been said that nearly one quarter of the votes might be tossed out as fraudulent over failures in identification procedures. To further worsen the status quo security-wise, there are persistent violent attacks by the Taliban, as well as Deash militants, as more than 1,100 Afghan civilians were killed and 3,139 wounded between July and September, marking the deadliest three-month stretch of violence for civilians in the past decade. At this stand, the revival of peace is directly linked to the election results and the formation of a government that is acceptable to all – something that seems difficult given the current situation. However, for reaching a sustainable peace and alleviating Afghans’ suffering, the future government should up the ante by refusing to negotiate until a ceasefire has been agreed. There is a need for a fresh push toward a ceasefire that could help rekindle the negotiations. It’s advisable for Esper that his visit – which comes almost a month after the election whose results have still not been announced amid technical ballot difficulties and allegations of fraud – should be in no way near the idea of meddling in the election but instead be a sincere step and measure to work for peace in Afghanistan. The Trump administration’s pledge to withdraw more than 5,000 American troops from Afghanistan, which is seen as part of his 2020 re-election bid, shouldn’t be in haste and should only come about when the Taliban are pressurized to sit with the next government – whose existence requires time and patience.