The long-awaited results of presidential elections in Afghanistan were announced on 22 December. Amidst allegations of rigging, President Ashraf Ghani is set to lead Afghanistan for a second term. While on the US-Taliban negotiations front, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation has stated that the talks are at an important stage. Chances are that a deal will be finalized in the days to come, as Taliban have agreed to a temporary ceasefire, during which a deal is expected to be signed. But for a long-lasting peace in Afghanistan, the importance of intra-Afghan dialogue cannot be overestimated. The dialogue will begin within two weeks of signing of the US-Taliban agreement, and it is during this interaction that the future of Afghanistan would be decided. The form of government and a power-sharing formula among various factions will come under discussion during negotiations.
A similar situation arose in Afghanistan shortly after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, when the communist government led by President Muhammad Najibullah was removed from power. Efforts were made to form a unity government that would pave the way for a future democratic setup in Afghanistan. The two main factions that competed for the top positions in the unity government included the Jamiat-e-Islami, a predominantly Tajik group led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Masood, and the Hezb-e-Islami, composed largely of Pashtuns led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
A deal facilitated by the United Nations, the United States, and Pakistan was signed in Peshawar on 24 April 1992, known as the Peshawar Accord. Through this Accord, various government positions were divided between different factions of Mujahideen. However, Hekmatyar, who was to serve as prime minister, refused to be part of the unity government as he was unwilling to share power with Ahmad Shah Masood as the defence minister. The very next week, Kabul was shelled by Hekmatyar’s forces using heavy artillery, and Afghanistan plunged into civil war. The attitudinal inflexibility on part of the warlords and their unwillingness to sit together has resulted in interminable and severe hardships for the people of Afghanistan.
The current situation in Afghanistan resembles that of 1992. The foreign forces will withdraw, and intra-Afghan dialogue will begin, but it will not be easy for the factions operating in Afghanistan to agree to a power-sharing arrangement. Intensive international diplomatic efforts would be required to convince all the parties to find consensus on various important issues. The points in question that would require resolution during the negotiations include: amendment to the current constitution or adopting a new one as Taliban do not accept the constitution of Afghanistan in its current form, safeguarding of women’s rights that would require guarantees from Taliban as their track record is not good in this context, integration of fighters into the society as every warlord maintains a sizeable militia, and status of the current government and parliament as both came to office through a popular vote. The parliamentary elections were held on 20 October 2018 and the parliament was inaugurated on 26 April 2019; whereas the preliminary results of the presidential elections held on 28 September 2019 were announced by the Election Commission on 27 October 2019, which means that before the start of an intra-Afghan dialogue, a new government will be in place, but will the incumbent president vacate his post to pave way for a unity government? If history is repeated, and sufficient flexibility isn’t shown by all parties, things are not likely to move forward in a positive direction. In this regard, the people of Afghanistan would have to play a crucial role in exerting pressure on the Afghan leadership to create consensus amongst them and let Afghanistan move forward from its violent past. The international community would also have to exert influence over various groups to come to the negotiating table and be ready to show greater flexibility.
For a lasting peace and to give the disillusioned people of Afghanistan relief from the misery they have been going through for so long, the leadership will have to set aside their individual agendas and work diligently for a peaceful and better future of Afghanistan, or else, history will repeat itself and Afghanistan will drift back into a civil war and ultimately the people of Afghanistan will continue to suffer.
Zuhaib Anwar works as a Researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). This article was first published in Daily NHT newspaper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.