Afghanistan: Peace deal and deepening political crisis
Dr Yatharth Kachiar, Research Associate, VIF

President Trump’s upcoming visit to India and the rapidly progressing peace talks between the US and the Taliban gives yet another opportunity for the policymakers in India to use their ingenuity in order to secure a place for itself in a post-American Afghanistan. The reports suggest that the agreement between the US and the Taliban has been finalized “in principle” and it is most likely that the two sides will sign the peace deal by the end of this month. The peace deal, if signed, will fulfil the key demands of both the parties by providing for an arrangement for troops withdrawal, ceasefire, intra-Afghan dialogue, and counterterrorism assurances. Before signing the agreement, both the sides will enter into a nationwide 7-day ‘reduction in violence’ period. The successful completion of this period will lead to the signing of the agreement.1 The peace deal addresses the mutual distrust prevailing on both the sides by making all the essential components of the agreement interdependent of each other. Before moving to the next stage, the parties involved will monitor the compliance for each implemented measure. The agreement stipulates that intra-Afghan talks will begin within 10-days of signing the peace agreement. It also envisions a 135-day period for the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan from its current strength of 13,000 to 8,600. At the same time, it gives a time period of 3-5 years to achieve a complete withdrawal of the US forces. However, any success in the peace talks is not possible without addressing the core issues in the Afghan conundrum, that is, the lack of unity among Afghans.2

After four months since Afghanistan conducted its third Presidential elections on 28 September 2019, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) finally declared Ashraf Ghani as the President of the country with 50.6% of total vote share. The Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah secured 39.52% votes in the electoral process. The election results were rejected by Dr. Abdullah, who after declaring himself the “winner” in the elections has announced the formation of an “inclusive government” by his Stability and Convergence team.3 Since the beginning, the electoral process has created a divisive environment in the country largely because of the issue of 300,000 fraudulent votes. The opposition members including the Chief Executive Abdullah’s team had led a campaign to protest against the fraudulent votes since September 2019. After completing the partial audit and partial recount of the disputed votes, the IEC added a total of 262 votes to Ghani’s total, 742 votes were added to Abdullah’s share, and 453 votes were invalidated. However, Abdullah’s team rejected the IEC’s decision on disputed votes as “illegal”.4

Further, other opposition candidates like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Rahmatullah Nabil, and Dostum have also rejected the results of Presidential elections. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar even suggested the formation of an “inclusive government” including the Taliban.5 What makes the matter worse for the Afghans is complete silence from the international community on the results of the election process. The countries such as the US, China, Russia, Pakistan have not yet released any official statement on the reelection of President Ghani. The only international institutions that have congratulated Ashraf Ghani on becoming the President for a second time is the EU and UNAMA.6 The political infighting in Afghanistan is deepening at a time when the US is inching closer to seal a deal with the Taliban. The peace deal with the Taliban gives the US an ‘exit strategy’ from Afghanistan, however, it nowhere means the end of the conflict in the country. The international recognition of the Taliban by various countries over the years have already strengthened the negotiating position of the armed group vis-à-vis a more nationalist front in the country. The underlying fact is that the US has no time to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan, and the Taliban doesn’t have any desire to end it. That is the reason why the armed group is able to gain more concessions from the US than it is ready to give.

It is the success of the Taliban’s negotiating power that the US even after a year of negotiations has not been able to enforce a nationwide ceasefire in the country. It proves the flawed nature of the US strategy of reconciliation in Afghanistan. After year-long negotiations between the US officials and the Taliban, the overall and casualty-producing enemy-initiated attacks launched by the armed group reached to 8,204 in the October-December 2019 quarter, highest since 2010. Also, the American military casualties in 2019 included 23 deaths and 192 injuries, were also the highest since January 2015.7 What both sides are finally settling for is a 7-day period of “reduction in violence” which if successful will eventually lead to the signing of the peace deal.

However, the two sides have not yet clarified the terms of this ‘reduction in violence phase’, and how are they going to monitor it. In any case, the term ‘reduction in violence’ is too ambiguous to comply fully. Nevertheless, more than the flawed US strategy vis-à-vis the Taliban, what is hurting the Afghan interests more is their own failure to forge a united nationalist front against the Taliban. The disputed election results have extended the political crisis in Afghanistan which in turn will make it difficult to move ahead with the peace process. In a fractured political environment, without forming a consolidated front by the Afghans against the Taliban at the negotiating table, the whole process of intra-Afghan dialogue will be futile.

Every crisis in Afghanistan gives an opportunity to India to extend its helping hand rather than being a mere bystander and relying completely on the US policy. Over the years, India has built good reputation among the people of Afghanistan and other stakeholders within the country to help them navigate through the current crisis. However, in order to do that India needs to shun its passive approach vis-à-vis a country which is the strategic backyard of Pakistan and thereby holds a special position in India’s strategic imagination as well. Trump’s upcoming visit and the ensuing political crisis in Afghanistan gives another opportunity to the policymakers in India to ensure that all is not lost in Afghanistan.

References
  1. Barnett R. Rubin, In long-suffering Afghanistan, this is a peace deal worth trying, Washington Post, 17 February 2020, URL: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/16/long-suffering-afghanistan-this-is-peace-deal-worth-trying/
  2. Ibid
  3. We have Come to Unite Our Nation: Ghani, TOLO News, 20 February 2020, URL: https://tolonews.com/elections-2019/we-have-come-unit-our-nation-ghani ; Also see, Abdullah Bars Electoral Leaders from Leaving Afghanistan, TOLO News, 19 February 2020, URL: https://tolonews.com/afghanistan/abdullah-bars-electoral-leaders-leaving-afghanistan
  4. Abdullah Rejects Results, Announces Formation of ‘Inclusive Govt’, TOLO News, 18 February 2020, URL: https://tolonews.com/afghanistan/abdullah-rejects-results-announces-formation-%E2%80%98inclusive-govt%E2%80%99
  5. Nabil Suggests 'Reconciliation Govt,' Rejects Election Results, TOLO News, 20 February 2020, URL: https://tolonews.com/elections-2019/nabil-suggests-%E2%80%98reconciliation-govt-rejects-election-results; also see, Hekmatyar Rejects Results: Ghani Chose 'Path of Crisis', TOLO News, 19 February 2020, URL: https://tolonews.com/elections-2019/hekmatyar-rejects-results-ghani-chose-path-crisis
  6. World Not Reacting to Final Election Results, TOLO News, 20 February 2020, URL: https://tolonews.com/elections-2019/world-not-reacting-final-election-results
  7. Catherine Putz, Report: SIGAR Notes Record-High Attack Numbers in Afghanistan, The Diplomat, 31 January 2020, URL: https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/report-sigar-notes-record-high-attack-numbers-in-afghanistan/

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