by Anna Romandash
“My country, Afghanistan, has been a part of the “great game”, that caused Afghanistan to be a victim, and unfortunately, this continues until today,” says Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan (2001-2014). Karzai, whose relationship with the West has worsened during his second presidential term, and who urged for peace talks with Taliban, sees his country as a battlefield for bigger players enforcing their interests.
Karzai claims that war’s prolongation has created doubts about American intentions in Afghanistan; he called country’s current President, Ashraf Ghani, a traitor since the latter let US forces to drop the biggest non-nuclear bomb on Afghan territory against ISIS fighters. While Karzai has been calling on American forces to leave Afghanistan, his rhetoric has become less critical, and he even claimed he could cooperate with the existing US government: “It is necessary for the US to regain the confidence of all the stakeholders and Afghan people.” This could be done through greater pressure on Pakistan, Karzai adds, where many terrorists have training facilities, and from where they plan their operations.
Karzai believes Afghanistan needs a new “Bonn conference” – a multi-stakeholder discussion on peace in his country, but this time, involving the Taliban. This comes in times when the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government have actually agreed on a ceasefire during the Eid celebrations after the end of Ramadan. On June 5, current President Ghani made an announcement on a ceasefire with the Taliban until June 20. Already in February, the President was urging for peace talks with the Taliban should they respect the rule of law; and on June 9, the Taliban confirmed a three-day long ceasefire with the governmental forces for the first three days of Eid – so from June 15 until June 18. While the government proposed extending the ceasefire, the Taliban refused meaning that on Monday, June 18, the group resumes its activities.
While the ceasefire has been a big change for Afghanistan as it has never happened before since 2001 US invasion, many critics claimed it also allowed Taliban fighters to enter government-controlled areas freely. Another challenge is the way the Taliban is further included in peace talks – if these manage to happen and involve all stakeholders. “Peace process has not started yet,” says Markus Potzel, Special Representative of the Germany to Afghanistan and Pakistan, “Of course, we have to talk to the Taliban and Afghan government, and we [Germany] are a part of the conflict, too”. According to Potzel, inclusion of the Taliban is complicated because other stakeholders don’t know what the group wants. “We can’t compromise when it comes to violence or human rights,” he adds.
The issue with the current peace talks in Afghanistan starts with the external relations and cooperation: there is a lot of mistrust between the initial allies, especially Afghanistan and Pakistan, where many extremists hide. “America and Germany put a big pressure on Pakistan,” says Potzel, “For Pakistan, Afghanistan is a strategic issue, and they use Afghan extremists as a leverage against India.” The given situation does not solve the existing conflict as Pakistan is officially recognized as an ally of the West while Afghan government criticizes its neighbor for harboring terrorists and doing little to stop them from fighting in the country.
Another challenge is the difficulties within Afghanistan itself. While Karzai emphasizes on the fact that the conflict is a result of outside intervention, Western allies don’t agree claiming it is as much Afghan conflict as it is influenced from the outside. “It is an internal conflict, caused by very weak institutions inside the country,” Potzel claims. While the outside influence has been a major impact on the affairs in the country, inside challenges such as corruption and struggles within the Afghan society have been cited among the reasons for instability, too.
While both internal and external factors impact the situation, the first ceasefire with the Taliban gives hope to a potential peaceful resolution of the conflict. Although short-lived and dangerous at times – as many Taliban fighters could go to government-controlled areas unchecked– it was a major shift in the peace talks in the country. Most stakeholders agree: while all parties need to claim responsibility for the affairs in Afghanistan, and West needs to admit its failures, peace talks have to continue through a development of a new security mechanism. Whether the partners manage to involve the Taliban and reach a sustainable solution is yet to see.
the Taliban: Talking external influence and local responsibility in Afghanistan