By Mohammed Gul SAHIBBZADA
The recent deal among US Government representative, Afghan Government and Taliban that led to prisoner swaps between Afghan Government and Taliban can bea harbinger of positive engagement between Afghan Government and Taliban insurgents in the ongoing peace process.Prisoners that were swapped included two professors, Kevin King, a US national and Timothy Weeks, an Australian national, who were teaching at American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul and were kidnaped by Taliban insurgents in August 2016. Afghan Government released AnasHaqani, a senior Haqqani network operative and his two comrades. Since the collapse of peace negotiation in September 2019 between US Government and Taliban, this swap of prisoners has been major positive development in Afghan peace talks.
For a stable and strong Afghanistan, it is important for international community, NATO and the United States to extensively review their current policies of engagement, which is mostly checkered by temptations to use knee jerk events – that occur in isolation and under carefully choreographed circumstances –to score points back at home, be them for election campaign or else. Afghanistan situation is complex and needs carefully designed strategy to find solutions and put an end to ongoing conflict. One of the many ways to do this is to look at it as a separate project with multiple moving parts that needs remedy, with consideration for local and regional sensitivities. Since the start of peace talks, Afghan Government has released thousands of Taliban insurgents just to show goodwill gesture to Taliban and create so called ‘environment of trust’ between the warring parties to engage in peace talks. The latest swaps of prisoners – mentioned above – also carried out to ‘create trust’ does not comply with logical sequence of release of prisoners in the context of an acceptable peace process. Prisoner exchange should take place only after warring parties agree on a guaranteed truce. Without a trustable ceasefire, release of fighters of insurgents can only fuel more conflict and give wrong singles such as weakness of conceding party i.e. Afghan Government in this case.
Afghan Government was adamant in its stance not to swap or release members of terrorist organization and had declared that ‘release of terrorists from prison was red line’, but the latest swap of prisoners is a clear contradiction and major change in Afghan Government position. Taliban insurgents may interpret this move as weakness of Afghan Government and that the US holds the strings that set directions for Afghan Government, and that is why they will insist in NOT talking to Afghan Government. Though the lives of professors are important should have been saved, release of high profile individuals whose organization – the Haqani network – which has killed hundreds of innocent people and military personnel of Afghan army and US / NATO military personnel. The act of kidnapping ordinary citizens is a brazen act of terrorism, and by the very nature of this prisoners swap, Taliban insurgents will be encouraged to undertake such operations – kidnapping ordinary citizens and then swapping them with high profile terrorists. This event may have great importance for the White House due to upcoming presidential elections in that country, but its repercussion will definitely remain for a long time in the country.
It is critically important to buttress Afghan Government position in the ongoing peace negotiation with Taliban insurgents, and the onus of responsibility do this lies on Afghanistan’s friends, international community, NATO and in particular, the United States. Sidelining Afghan Government in any peace negotiation would be tantamount to completeloss ofall the gains made that were possible by spending hundreds of billions of dollars, andshedding blood of thousands of Afghan, US and NATO during last almost two decades. Not only the past gains will evaporate, a future that can accommodate people’s democratic values, freedom and hope will not exist, and the country will once again slip into anarchism, civil war and will become harbor for international terrorists. ‘Lasting peace is possible when you are always ready for war’. Afghanistan is at a cross road of a very important region, and a strong, legitimate, acceptable to all and inclusive central government is the only option to move forward to stabilize the country. Establishing many centers of power across the country will become nuisance to all, and such development will thwart all efforts to strengthen country’s institutions, government system and economy. Wars have taken a complete different shape after World War 2. Super powers and regional rival countries chose a country – in particular a failed state, such as Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and / or Iraq – and flex their muscles either to solve old scores or find niche for future benefits. Last forty years of war has left deep scars in Afghan society due to endless interferences of neighboring countries’ intelligence agencies. Though last two events during last two decades have paved the way for coming into being a structured society, comparably functioning institutions and a civil society, the people of Afghanistan will continue to need support – especially in security, defense and policing sector so that the country once again stand on its own feet.