by Editor (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 6, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1442)
With the Taliban making rapid gains across large swathes of territory, fears about a civil war erupting in Afghanistan have been raised. Why that should be the case has not been fully explained but the underlying assumption is that other ethnic groups will not accept Taliban rule and will fight back to retain their influence.
Perhaps, but let us consider recent developments as well as the Taliban’s record when they were in power from 1996 to 2001. The Taliban claim to control 85% of territory today and almost all border crossings with neighbouring countries including the two major crossings at Wesh Mandi/Spin Boldak with Pakistan, and Islam Qila with Iran. The border crossing with Pakistan is the most important since the bulk of goods between the two countries pass through this point. This might explain why the Kabul regime forces are trying to recapture Spin Boldak, without much success so far.
In northern Afghanistan, the Taliban gained ground without much fighting, if any at all. Similarly, they have stated repeatedly that they would like to resolve the situation through dialogue among various groups without foreign interference or influence. All Afghan factions should be encouraged to arrive at a political settlement through dialogue.
This is where Afghanistan’s neighbours can help although it must be recognized that their task is not easy. Two neighbours in particular—Pakistan and Iran—have a crucial role to play because they have been and will be most affected by any negative developments in Afghanistan. Both also host millions of Afghan refugees that have strained their economies badly. It has also been repeatedly stressed that the process must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. Fair enough. So, what role can Afghanistan’s neighbours play?
While the Taliban and Kabul regime representatives met in Doha on the eve of Eid al Adha, the Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada issued an Eid message in which he reaffirmed the group’s commitment to a political solution to the crisis in Afghanistan. This is encouraging.
“In spite of the military gains and advances, the Islamic Emirate [of Afghanistan] strenuously favours a political settlement in the country,” Akhundzada said in his message. “Every opportunity for the establishment of an Islamic system, peace and security that presents itself will be made use of by the Islamic Emirate,” he added.
The message is important but may not be enough to help reach a political settlement. The primary reason is that Ashraf Ghani, installed by the Americans in the presidential chair, refuses to relinquish power despite the fact that the area under his control is rapidly shrinking. He should not be indulged anymore; he is becoming irrelevant.
Afghanistan’s neighbours have made their own individual efforts to help broker peace between various Afghan factions. In early July, Iran brought together representatives of the Taliban and the Kabul regime for discussions. Russia, too, held meetings with them in Moscow. And on July 21-22, Pakistan had planned to host a conference on Afghanistan to which a large number of Afghan leaders representing various ethnic groups were invited. It was postponed on July 16 after the people invited to the Islamabad conference headed to Doha where talks with the Taliban resumed. Ghani had also called for the postponement of the Islamabad conference which has now been done for as yet undetermined date.
This may perhaps prove a blessing in disguise. Instead of holding individual conferences and summits, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China should coordinate and hold a joint summit bringing all Afghan factions together. The importance of such a summit would be that no Afghan faction could accuse the organizers of pushing their own agenda. Second, between them, the organizers of the summit would carry much greater clout both politically and economically. War-torn Afghanistan will need all the help it can get regardless of who is in power although it is almost certain that the Taliban will be the major force in any future dispensation.
China has already indicated it will invest massively in Afghanistan if peace can be restored. The Taliban are the only group that can restore peace, as they did when they were in power the last time. It was only America’s war of aggression that resulted in their ouster from power. Now that the Americans have been driven out, it is time to give peace a chance.
The long-suffering people of Afghanistan deserve no less. If the various Afghan faction leaders do not rise to the occasion, the world will turn its back on them and history will render a very harsh verdict. Afghanistan’s neighbours can help prevent this outcome.