After 14 years of conflict with the Taliban, the Afghan government has finally outlined a road map for peace. Negotiations are in the early stages for quadrilateral talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, China, and the Taliban, and such international support for an Afghan-led peace process is a significant achievement.
Talks have already been held in Islamabad and Kabul, with the third set to be held on February 6 in Islamabad. As the peace process takes shape, a cautiously optimistic approach must acknowledge six factors fundamental to any conflict’s resolution.
Relinquishing Violent Solutions
An armed conflict becomes protracted when there is no decisive military solution. All parties in an asymmetrical conflict -- such as that in Afghanistan -- must accept that one cannot "wipe out" the other side by military means. At the root of any armed conflict is a political issue. Hence the solution must be a political dialogue.
This does not mean a forceful response to the insurgency is unnecessary. Security measures must be taken, and military pressures is useful when it offers a political way out, with a clear process of addressing the underlying grievances. It requires the brave and politically costly step of bringing the extreme armed wing of the opposition to the negotiating table.
Identifying the moderates in the opposition and negotiating with them is not enough. Unless those perpetrating the violence are brought to the negotiating table, peace will not be realized. They must be shown, through careful communication that in no way endorses them or bows to their pressure, that there are political means to their aims without resorting to violence.
Regardless of the prevalent patriarchal ideologies on any side, genuine peace requires the inclusion of women at the negotiating table. The peace process must acknowledge that the conflict does not end with a ceasefire agreement and men putting down their weapons. Women and children are the most affected group in times of war and continue to bear the brunt of conflict in the aftermath of peace accords. The presence of women at the negotiating table will ensure a holistic approach to a sustainable peace.
A protracted conflict cannot end with a "win-lose" solution. When it becomes clear there cannot be a one-sided victory, the insurgency will not surrender. The peace process must acknowledge the narrative of the opposition and work toward an agreement that does not demand abject surrender. For example, pre-conditions of talks could be interpreted as asymmetric demands. It is important to begin talks, earn trust, and only then set terms that are deemed nonnegotiable. A successful peace agreement will not be a zero-sum settlement. All sides must be shown to come out as winners.
There is a need for political leadership on both sides. When it comes to the peace process, the Afghan government must speak with one voice. Its executive and legislative and military and intelligence arms must be united at the policy level and act as one in the field. Disagreements and concerns within the government must be internally discussed and resolved. To the insurgents, it must always appear as a single, united front.
The Taliban, too, need to present a united leadership. The current infighting among the Taliban’s leadership is a clear roadblock. The political leadership must be ready to show that a political settlement is the only viable solution, even if that means sacrificing their political careers. Such is the cost of genuine political leadership in the peace process. Unless leaders are willing to take serious political risks on all sides, there can be no peace.
A strong leadership must be able to recognize and grasp the political momentum to achieve peace. When the conflict is "ripe" for resolution, it must be embraced by the leadership to jump-start the process. Clear, tangible deadlines must be set and all efforts be made to meet them despite changing circumstances such as growing internal and external opposition.
Let The Process Run Its Course
Peace must be perceived as a process. A clear track to peace must be outlined, and all parties must be kept busy. When there is a systemic process to peace, it allows greater management of problems that arise. Once the peace process is ongoing, it is imperative to not let it stall. There must be a willingness and ability to handle any blockage and absorb growing political pains.
A peace process requires long-term commitment. Breakthrough agreements must be envisioned as beginnings rather than an end. The implementation of these is often a tortuous journey that must be adhered to by all parties. Once an agreement is reached, efforts must be redoubled to persuade the people on all sides to accept and adhere to it fully.
Regional And Global Consensus
The international community and regional powers are actively involved in the latest Afghan peace-building initiative. Their engagement is crucial. The role of a third party can be significant in bringing impartiality, a greater degree of patience, and balance to the negotiating table. Moreover, third parties guarantee independence. Often the insurgents will find it easier to concede to government demands, such as disarmament, when dealing with a third party.
For nearly four decades, neighbors, regional and global powers have contributed to the various cycles of war in Afghanistan. This is their chance to contribute to building a lasting Afghan peace.
Mohammad Dawod is a Canada-based Afghan commentator. His twitter handle is @dawod5551. These views are the author's alone and do not represent those of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.