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The Afghanistan Study Group Recommendations for Peace

                                                Summary by Matin Royeen Ph.D

Introduction:  In the past forty years, the Afghan people have paid a very heavy price due to protracted violent conflict.  The bloody Communist coup of 1978 followed by ten years of former Soviet invasion in December of 1979 and the brutal civil war caused by a power struggle among different factions of the Mujaheddin (freedom fighters) brought about much devastation to the Afghan nation.  During the Soviet invasion, the United States and allies provided weapons and funding in support of the Afghan freedom fighters who resisted the Soviet aggression which resulted in the Soviet withdrawal from the Afghan soil.  The subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union ended the cold war and the United States emerged as the sole Super Power in the world. 

It is interesting to note that the late President Ronald Reagan had declared March 21, 1982, as Afghanistan Day in order to “commemorate the valor of the Afghan people and to condemn the continuing Soviet invasion of their country.  Afghanistan Day will serve to recall not only these events but also the principles involved when people struggles for the freedom to determine its own future, the right to be free of foreign interference, and the right to practice religion according to the dictates of conscience,” Sadly, after winning the cold war, the American principle fell short by losing interest in the region and in Afghanistan, where some of the old jihadists under the name of Al-Qaeda (whom we supported during the war) filled the vacuum and later attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.  The Taliban who were mainly the product of religious schools known as Maddressa were supported by Saudi funding in Pakistan during the war, took over Afghanistan under the influence of the Pakistani military in 1996.  In response to the September terrorist attacks, The United States and allies invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, and overthrew the Taliban regime for refusing to turn over the Master Mind of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Osama Bin Ladin.  Twenty years later, my country, the United States, and allies find ourselves in the same predicament as the Soviets did with regard to bringing their troops home.  It is important to make the distinction between the Soviet and American intervention which took place under different circumstances and that was to apprehend Osama Bin Ladin, dismantle the Al-Qaeda network, and making sure that there will never be any terrorist threats against the interests of the United States and allies. In the past twenty years, many positive changes in education, health, the standard of living, improvements in infrastructure, human rights, civil society, and erecting the foundation of democratic institutions have taken place.  Unfortunately, many problems are still haunting the Afghan people that include terrorism, insurgency, and security problems exacerbated by endemic corruption, weak governance, political rift, and ethnic tension.

Opportunity for Peace:  The Trump administration signed a bilateral peace agreement with the Taliban on February 28, 2020, under which the Taliban would cut ties with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, reduce violence and participate in intra-Afghan negotiation in good faith with the ultimate goal of a ceasefire that would result in lasting peace in the country.  In return, the United States would completely withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by May of 2021.  Despite its limitations, the Trump-initiated Afghan peace negotiations provide a great opportunity for President Biden’s administration to make the necessary adjustments in achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan.

The United States Institue of Peace (USIP) and the Afghanistan Study Group (ASG):  In March of 2020, the USIP was charged by the US Congress to develop some policy recommendations regarding peace in Afghanistan which will safeguard the national interests of the United States and allies in the region.  The Afghanistan Study Group is a 15 member co-chaired by a former senator from New Hampshire Kelly Ayotte, General  Joseph Dunford, former Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, and  Nancy Lindborg, former President and Chief Executive Officer of the USIP.  The co-chairs sought feedback from many experts in different fields with some excellent observations/recommendations.  I hope that President Biden’s administration will seize this great opportunity to listen to different stakeholders and develop a comprehensive long-term strategy for peacemaking and peacebuilding in Afghanistan. The cost of this longest US war has been costly and brutal for all sides.

Observations of the Afghanistan Study Group:  The following points will bring clarity of purpose for the United States’ efforts for a peaceful Afghanistan.

  • Clearly defined and articulated goals for the US engagement in Afghanistan.
  • Expression of support for the Afghan constitution and for the Afghan Government in Kabul.
  • Clearly articulate the importance of our commitments to the Afghans and our allies.
  • Our policies, messaging, and regional diplomacy should be fully aligned within the US agencies.
  • The Afghan peace should be viewed in the context of our national interest in Afghanistan with conditions attached.

Four Areas of Importance towards Afghan Peace Negotiations: 

  1. The Security Environment: The US troop’s presence in Afghanistan has contributed towards security and without our presence under current conditions, the Afghan soil will become a haven for terrorists within 18-36 months.  This means that the Afghan forces dependent on our funding and operational support without which the possibility of civil war will be high.
  2. Stability:  Afghanistan is a Fragile State.  In order for the governmental institutions to function, they need our continued assistance.
  3. Regional Diplomacy:  The United States should enhance international/regional diplomacy in support of the peace negotiations and peace agreement.  Robust diplomacy with Afghan neighbors will reduce proxy warfare, decrease narcotics and establish control of its territory. 
  4. The Afghan Peace Negotiations:  Our military presence coupled with rigorous diplomatic engagement will have a positive impact on peace negotiations.  We do not believe the Taliban have met the conditions of the 2020 peace agreement.  Similarly, the current Afghan Government must enter and support the peace process in good faith.

Conclusion:  Developing a genuine political consensus towards peace among key players in Afghanistan will result in meaningful leadership solidarity.   This united front will be able to take advantage of this historic opportunity and forge a long-lasting peace and move forward towards peacebuilding in the next ten years.  This means that the United States, NATO, and the rest of the international community continue to provide the necessary financial and technical support for the Afghan people until 2030.

Dr. Matin Royeen Ph.D. is an Afghan-American educator.  He can be reached at [email protected]

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