Opinion and Editorial

Afghanistan needs a broad-based solution amid Taleban’s onslaught

Waqar Mustafa
Filed on August 5, 2021 | Last updated on August 5, 2021 at 12.16 am

The Taleban say they have gained control of about 85 per cent of the country’s territory.

As I start writing these lines, reports pour in of an attack on the residence of Afghanistan’s defence minister. Not even at home, the minister stays safe. And so does his family, evacuated from their home after gunmen detonate a car bomb and fire shots near Kabul’s heavily fortified Green Zone.

Four attackers and four other people are killed. The attack, which the US says bears “all the hallmarks” of a Taleban assault, comes as fighting rages in other key Afghan cities, with the UN Security Council calling for an immediate end to the violence warning of a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Videos on social media show people taking to the streets and rooftops to shout Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) in defiance of the attacks ahead of a complete withdrawal of American troops from the war-torn country. Not any different are the slogans the Taleban militia or the Afghan security forces raise. That’s what a civil war is!

It is set to batter the already war-torn Afghanistan and badly impact the neighbouring countries and the region beyond after the US and its Nato allies have wound down their nearly 20-year military presence in the country. The Taleban say they have gained control of about 85 per cent of the country’s territory, including the border regions with five countries — Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

Pakistan is highly likely to take most of the brunt of what it calls a hasty US withdrawal. According to the International Crisis Group, “if the Afghan conflict continues, Pakistan, sitting right next door, stands to lose more than any country but Afghanistan itself.” Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan says that the US-accelerated troop exit from Afghanistan has left

Washington with no “bargaining power” for arranging a peace deal between warring Afghans. “I think the US has really messed it up in Afghanistan,” Khan said in an interview with PBS NewsHour. Russia and China too fault the US for failing to bring about peace in the war-torn country. Along with Pakistan, they are worried that the renewed unrest in Afghanistan will be destabilising for them.

On its part, Pakistan says it will complete a 2,611km fence it started in 2017 along the border with Afghanistan this summer “to prevent cross-border militant attacks”.

But the country is anxiously looking for a solution to the crisis. Courtesy certain pull-outs, it has had to give up its plan to host a peace conference in its capital Islamabad involving Afghanistan’s political leaders after putting it off twice. Now media reports say senior officials from Pakistan, the US, Russia and China will meet on Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar, on August 11. They had last met in April there in what appeared to be an effort to develop regional consensus on the Afghan endgame. The US now says a political solution is the only way forward. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington expects both sides to focus on a political settlement.

The Taleban have seized control of populated rural areas and key border crossings, and are also put-ting pressure on provincial capitals. Khalilzad said Taleban members have been “emboldened” by the group’s recent gains and “are in a maximalist frame of mind”, while the Afghan government is attempting to develop a new military strategy, “believing that without that, it’s in too weak [a position] to pursue a negotiated settlement”. But he reiterated that “the best-case scenario” is a negotiated agreement to end the violence.

Two days of talks between the Afghan government and Taleban delegations earlier this month in Doha ended without an agreement. Both sides, however, said they remained “committed to continue negotiations at a high level until a settlement is reached”.

Any solutions should recognise Afghanistan’s diversity, and be Afghan-led and durable and sustainable. For the transition, some mechanism acceptable to the warring parties may be required to oversee reconciliation and reintegration. And so would be investments in economic and human capital development to provide a tangible opportunity for the youth population and former insurgents. True that a political settlement is the only way left to get Afghanistan, and the region, out of the morass it is in. But, with little bargaining power against a grouping on the gain, managing one is easier said than done!

Waqar Mustafa is a Pakistan-based journalist and commentator

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