Afghanistan is one the few countries in the world which suffers from four decades of war and violence. Millions of people have been killed, injured or forced to flee. The war costs trillions of dollars for all engaged parties, including the US and the former USSR. The prolonged war has not remained within Afghanistan's borders, but instead resulted in the collapse of the former USSR, the 9/11 tragedy, and much violence and instability in many countries around the world. Since more than a decade, in addition to the heavy cost in human lives, billions of dollars have been spent for security, reconstruction and peace in the country. And even though all parties agree that only a political solution can assure sustainable peace in a country, such agreement has not successfully matured or implemented yet.
During the last 13 years the United States and NATO allies have invested so much blood and treasure in Afghanistan and the Middle East, in general. In the "War on Terror" Afghans have paid a high price as well, with many thousands dead. The achievements of the last decade in the country are unprecedented and many Afghans highly appreciate the generous support of the US and its allies. These achievements are historic even if they do come at a staggering cost. In order to protect such outstanding accomplishments and expand investment in Afghanistan, a long lasting peace is required.
Afghanistan National Independent Peace and Reconciliation Commission was established in May 2005 to lead the reconciliation process with the insurgent groups the Taliban and Hizb Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. This effort was subsequently followed by the establishment of the High Peace Council in September 2010. The Afghan government has been struggling for peace since a decade, but what is the reason that they have not succeeded in their efforts? Both war and peace in Afghanistan has internal and external causes that one must factor into their analytical equation. Reconciliation cannot merely be a national, domestic process, but should be a cohesive, comprehensive, inclusive and an international process.
Key reasons for deadlock and failure of the peace talks include: a lack of a unifying strategy within the Afghan government. Conflicts of interest and disagreement between government officials and their international partners. Absence of a firm commitment and position of the engaged parties. Overestimating the role and influence of Pakistan, negotiating through the wrong tribune, by wrong moderators, with the wrong actors in the wrong places will fail process. Lastly, a variety of pre-conditions from the many parties prevent the peace process from even really getting off the ground.
To renounce violence, cutting ties with al Qaeda and accepting the Afghan constitution are pre-conditions of the government. Insurgents' conditions are: amendment of the constitution, holding a Loya Jirga (grand council, the highest decision making body in the country) and being an essential part of the decision making process. The September 2014 power-sharing deal between President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah the leaders of the National Unity Government already agreed for holding a Loya Jirga to amend the constitution for diffusing power in what had been designed to be a highly centralized system. While the conditions set by the government are not widely accepted by everyone in the Afghan government, if insurgents accept these conditions they would soon be known as peace loving citizens and so much negotiation might not be needed.
What do insurgents and the Afghan people have to gain or lose in the reconciliation process and why should they reconcile? Is a political settlement and the guarantee of security in Afghanistan worth amending the constitution? Is the nation ready to compromise for strategic gains? Who will be the loser and the winner of the ongoing war and continuous violence? These are key questions that the Afghan people should be asking themselves. Of course in every negotiation there are things to gain and things to lose and such a reality should be accepted early in the process.
Contrary to the principle of reconciliation, during the last decade the government's efforts have not resembled negotiations, but an offer of surrender and the Taliban declared that they will not give up, surrender, and accept imprisonment - rather, they will continue their resistance. Reconciliation is a process where everyone should be given equal rights and responsibilities, not only privileges, and one side should not make all the concessions. Currently the peace process is mostly focused on reintegration via bribery, impunity, rewards and privileges.
An immediate cease-fire by all parties in mediation of the United Nations, holding a real and inclusive Loya Jirga in the presence of the insurgents' representatives, and establishing of a transitional government to prepare the ground for a widely accepted government might be considered as either repetition or correction of the processes. Because the post-Taliban establishment of a transitional administration in June 2002 after holding the Bonn Conference, ratification of a constitution in December 2003 in the absence of armed opposition representatives in the subsequent Loya Jirgas and elections are all seen as strategic errors. All the settlements formed were thus agreed upon without the participation of the armed opposition. Their representation could have undermined any narrative against the Afghan government, but in contrary their absence in the process, has allowed the insurgents to gain some unexpected traction by expression of their grievances.
Insurgents repeatedly requested to directly negotiate with the U.S. government, but the U.S. policy makers haven't acknowledged their role in peace talks. Afraid of sharing power and Ignoring the fact that most of the leaderships of the insurgents are either in prisons in Pakistan, Guantanamo Bay or have been placed on the sanction list and blacklists of the UN and USA, the Afghan leaders pressured the U.S and UN to do not engage in the peace talks and introduced the process as an Afghan government led only. If the U.S and UN do not accept their role and responsibility and if they do not include the insurgents as a part of the solution, they will remain a part of the problem only. So, considering the strategic interest of the Afghan people and their allies, all the engaged parties should assess the situation carefully and work on an immediate and long term solution.