Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on May 20, 2020
The Afghan peace process and the foreign press: Between bluster and nation-building

An article in the Financial Times headlined ‘Afghan offensive against Taliban threatens peace deal’ insidiously presents the government of Afghanistan as the aggressor which undermines the peace process by launching offensive against the Taliban. This is illustrative of a rising trend in reportage of even reputed media outlets, that seems to favor oversimplification at the expense of nuance and responsible reporting. The media plays an extremely influential role in disseminating information and narrative-building, and through this it shapes not just the dialogue and negotiations but also colors the way politicians, policy makers and even the public think. To fully appreciate the situation, it is important to examine all the facts at hand.

Is the peace process really failing or are certain journalists failing to understand or refusing to see the difference between a process and an event? A peace process involves agreements between two parties. Agreements, treaties and arrangements have played a critical role in diplomacy to shape international relations, enforce boundaries and create security since time immemorial. As experience of various conflict-riven countries have shown, arriving at peace through agreements and treatises is a long-drawn out and complicated process. There are no  quick fixes.

The discussions between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) began in 2014 and ended in June 2016. ‘However, in recent months, Colombian president Iván Duque has been trying to back out of key provisions, as he ran his presidential campaign on vocally opposing the deal. In addition, some ex-guerrillas have become frustrated and disillusioned with the deal as funding and support from the government for the peace accords have slowed. The Colombian peace deal remains in place but it is in jeopardy of falling apart.’

There is also the case of the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) signed by the Government of Sudan and one faction of the Sudan Liberation Army. On paper, it was a comprehensive deal and contained provisions for wealth-sharing, power-sharing, political reform, victim compensation, security and reconciliation through the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation. However, this deal was not respected and violence broke out soon after.

The reasons for the failure of the DPA was in part because of long-standing historical, political and economic causes that proved difficult to resolve because of the deep-seated animosity between the two parties. Another major reason why the deal failed was because of the way the peace process operated. Mediators had to show results within the tight timelines set by the UN Security Council and therefore were forced to expedite the process. This meant that instead of negotiating, the mediators started to arbitrate between the protagonists

If anything, the breakdown of the DPA shows that arriving at peace cannot be rushed.  An agreement between contending parties needs to be tailored keeping in mind the history and cultural context of the parties involved. Sensitivity is key. Patience is important.

In the case of Afghanistan, on February 29, 2020, U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad signed an agreement with Taliban representatives to start the process of building everlasting peace in Afghanistan. At the signing ceremony, US Secretary of State, M. Pompeo sounded a note of caution. ‘We will closely watch the Taliban’s compliance with their commitments and calibrate the pace of our withdrawal to their actions,’ he said.

Two and half months into the peace process, US President Trump stated that the United States has been in Afghanistan ‘for many years. We’re like a police force. And at some point, they’re going to have to be able to take care of their own country, and they’re going to have to be able to police their own country.’ However, he ended his statement with ‘so, I don’t know, we’ll have to see.’ That is the key point. The world community will have to assess the state of peace and governance in Afghanistan and shape their policies accordingly.

A few days ago, three gunmen disguised as the police attacked a hospital run by the international humanitarian organization, Medecins Sans Frontieres in Kabul, western Afghanistan. The same day, a suicide bomber attacked in the Nangarhar province, eastern Afghanistan, targeting the funeral of a police commander. Afghanistan Vice President (and former intelligence chief) Amrullah Saleh stated that there was evidence suggesting that the Taliban was responsible for the brutal attacks on both the funeral procession and the maternity ward.

The fact is that no one has claimed to have orchestrated the attack in Kabul. The Islamic State has claimed to be behind the attack on the funeral in Nangarhar. US Envoy Khalilzad said on Friday that the ISIS-Khorasan had masterminded both the attacks this week and there was no link between this group and the Taliban.

The Taliban denied having any role in the attack on the hospital. They issued a statement on Friday condemning the attacks and demanding transparent and investigations. However, a senior Afghan government official, who declined to be identified, said the patterns of recent attacks showed the involvement of the Taliban and the affiliated Haqqani Network. The Network’s head, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is the deputy chief of the Taliban.

Given that the mastermind behind these crimes are yet to be irrefutably identified, is it prudent to hasten and take a step now? Should we rush to put blame? Aren’t trust and tolerance important when re-building a nation?

For now, there are few signs of progress in the peace process. The statements issued by the Taliban and the Afghan government suggest that violence escalated from both sides. There is also a stalemate over prisoner release.

The faltering peace process in Colombia and Sudan shows that the road to peace is long and full of pitfalls. The complexity in initiating an Intra Afghan negotiation, ending civil war, ensuring regional accountability and maintaining smooth diplomatic relations with our international partners as well as pledging economic stability are some of the things Afghanistan has to work towards.

Condoleezza Rice in her book, To Build a Better World or the first book, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed details exactly how Germany was reunited in the fall of 1990, the story of leadership in a crisis. Major events spun out of the control for all world leaders in the year and a half before German unification. The authors write that some leaders, like German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, were able to use their superior political instincts to great advantage, while others, like his counterparts in East Germany who were inept and kept getting replaced, were left behind.

The book states that it took Germany almost 45 years (from 1945 to 1990) to rebuild Germany and bring stability and enduring peace after the Nazis were overthrown by the Allied Forces in World War II, Germany was divided into East bloc and West bloc. This was known as the division of Germany. Germany was stripped of its war gains and lost territories in the east to Poland and the Soviet Union. Since then, Germany has worked tirelessly to get back on its feet and to bring political and economic stability and build enduring peace. It took them 45 years to undo the damage wreaked in just five years.

The timeline of the war in Afghanistan begins with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late December 1979 and ended in 1989. After Soviet troops left Afghanistan, not much changed in the country. If anything, the scale of the fighting between the Afghans increased. In 1994 the Taliban emerged and ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when a US-led invasion toppled the regime for providing refuge to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. This was the beginning of the US war on terror. From 1979 till this date, Afghanistan has been at war. How many years will Afghans need to undo the damage of 41 years?

Violence and terrorism have been visited upon Afghanistan for decades now. The road to peace for Afghanistan is further complicated by the fact that it needs to brokered between parties within the country but it involves international parties too. Can Afghanistan request the international community and reputed news agencies such as the Financial Times to not jump the gun and proclaim a process that is in its infancy, a failure? Can they be so kind as to consider precedents, factor in diplomatic processes and the time they take and appreciate the complexity of the situation and show patience and forbearance as we strive to rebuild and fight terrorism? Are these media houses willing to be that responsible?

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