Will the transition of leadership in the Taliban and the Afghan government’s peace agreement with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami help reduce the unity government’s frustration? The two-year term of the political agreement between Dr Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abdullah that was brokered by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, on September 21, 2014 to settle the dispute of presidential election as well as their administrative and constitutional matters regarding the unity government is going to complete in September 2016. However, at present, the government is on the edge, political spectrum is oblique as ever, internal differences are marring the prospects of development and challenges like the failure of the Afghan peace process and the precarious security situation of the country are still proving formidable.
President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah are not on the same page as differences between them are rife and they don’t have agreement on most of the power-sharing formula anymore. Reports in Afghan and international media suggest that issues between both the leaders on key decisions have persisted since the formation of the unity government and this is due to this tussle that several key posts in the government are still lying vacant or those are being run by acting directors and ministers. For instance, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Ministry of Defence are the key security institutions that are being run by acting director and minister, respectively. Moreover, in February this year, Afghan media leaked two secret documents regarding the appointment of the mayor of Helmand province: one appointment letter was issued by President Ghani while the other by CEO, Dr Abdullah, and interestingly both had suggested different persons for the abovementioned post. It shows that all is not well between the two offices.
Rumours are aplenty that after the expiry of the two-year term, Dr Abdullah will be forced out of the office of the Afghanistan’s CEO. According to a New York Times report entitled “In Afghanistan, John Kerry Seeks End to Bickering of Unity Government,” Palace advisers argued that, while the position of chief executive would expire, the president would still have a mandate based on ‘an election that they say was cleansed by a United Nations audit’. In such a case, the political chaos may arise once again despite Kerry’s remarks during his visit to Kabul on April 10 that the unity government’s term is not two years; its duration is five years. However, Kerry’s statement is not a final word as it will be decided by the Loya Jirga.
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Furthermore, Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour was recently killed in a drone attack near Noshki district in Balochistan on May 21. From the US point of view, the objective of the strike was to create divisions among the Taliban on the question of new leadership and to weaken their summer offensive. This important event — for the time being — seems a good sign for Afghan government who has long been struggling against the Taliban. On one hand, it has significantly pressurized Taliban while it may also ignite differences among the ranks of the Taliban, on the other. Nonetheless, in the long run, it will have negative impacts on the peace process for which the Afghan government has been trying for two years.
The United States and Afghanistan accuse Pakistan of harboring terrorists on its soil especially in its tribal areas. In order to allay these grievances, Pakistan started Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency near Pak-Afghan border in June 2014 with a mission to eliminate the terrorism and the terrorists from the area. This operation has dislodged the terrorists and their backbone has been broken but a sheer lack of cooperation from other side of the Durand Line has minimized the effectiveness of this operation as most of the terrorists infiltrate into Afghanistan due to lack of a robust border security management system.
For supporting and patronizing a successful Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), which comprises the United States, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, was created in 2015 after the 5th Heart of Asia Istanbul Process Conference hosted by Pakistan in Islamabad. The QCG was supposed to make all-out efforts to pave the way for the peace process by using their influence on the parties. Although the QCG and especially Pakistan had been successful in scheduling a round of peace talks in Murree in March this year, yet despite holding five meetings, the group has failed to achieve anything impressive or noteworthy.
On May 18, the Afghan government concluded a peace agreement with the Hezb-e-Islami of Afghanistan (Hekmatyar faction) that has build, to some extent, the government’s confidence toward peace process. According to the agreement, the group will abandon its anti-government activities and will cease its connections with other militant groups. Besides, the Hezb-e-Islami will abide by the Afghanistan’s constitution. On the other hand, the government will offer members of Hezb-e-Islami an amnesty similar to that offered in 2007 to warlords accused of war crimes, as well as a release of prisoners held by Afghan authorities.
Now in the current flux of situation when the Taliban chief has been killed by the US, the prospects of peace process seem dim. The US is trying to justify Mansour’s killing by asserting that he was against the peace process; however, a retrospective look at the events of the past year would reveal that it was Mansour himself who authorized the Murree round of peace talks using the name of Mullah Umar.
The new Taliban chief, Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada in his first public announcement has vowed to continue fight. Even so, his message does not evince a complete disengagement from the negotiations and peace process. It’s a normal thing during insurgencies that when insurgents hold good position, they normally do not accept offers for peace negotiations rather they try to extract maximum advantages and achieve their objectives. Same is the case with the Taliban; they have been fighting for the last fifteen years against the US and the Afghan forces and have largely remained undefeated. Now the Taliban want to get their maximum demands accepted by the US and Afghanistan. When the Taliban would find the offer of the US and the Afghan government appropriate to them, there will be an agreement of peace in Afghanistan which will be an impetus to regional peace and stability.
It is so unfortunate that whenever good omens for peace in Afghanistan arise, some forces come forward to sabotage those because they are not interested in bringing peace to Afghanistan. Here is a critical question for Pakistan: “Who is the power that does not want peace process in Afghanistan to be successful; only, because Pakistan would have a lion’s share in its success? The most important reason behind Afgha-nistan’s instability may be the United States because if Afghanistan remains unstable, the US will have opportunities to prolong its stay in the region that will enable it to pursue its long-term economic and strategic objectives in the region. And this fact is corroborated by US presidential candidate Donald Trump, who recently said:
“I think you [American Forces] have to stay in Afghanistan for a while, because of the fact that you are right next to Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons and we have to protect that.”
The US House of Representative also recently passed a bill which says that Pakistan will have to take stern action against the Haqqani network; otherwise, their aid under the Coalition Support Fund will be reduced. Instead of accusing Pakistan for all the woes of Afghanistan, the US should carve out a comprehensive plan to clear Afghanistan as well as Pak-Afghan border areas from TTP and other terrorists as only it will help create peace and stability not only in Afghanistan but in the region as well. In addition, parties in the unity government should also bridge their differences and overcome all the internal problems in order to make Afghanistan stable and politically strong.