Afghanistan at a crossroads

Afghanistan is seeing growing national, regional and global attempts to seek a peaceful settlement to the conflict. The U.S. is desperate to extricate itself from the war, heightened by an unpredictable President and an ambitious negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad. This desperation is matched by growing fears in Afghanistan that the Taliban will seek to overthrow the government, as it did in 1994, and that the government, the political class and the democratic constituency will be betrayed by a hasty deal between a desperate U.S. and an overconfident Pakistan. Desperation, fear and hubris may produce a peace agreement, but such an agreement may not bring inclusive and sustainable peace. Key questions Addressing the main drivers of the conflict are the principal tenets of any sustainable peace settlement. The causes of the Afghan conflict are religious, ethnic and external in nature. The conflict has been fought over the identity, legitimacy and sovereignty of the Afghan state and society: Should it be a Pashtun-dominated entity or a pluralistic state? Is an Islamist/theocratic emirate a true identity of the nation or a constitutional republic? Should it be a puppet state of Pakistan or a sovereign and independent state? Should it be a representative or plutocratic state? There have been numerous peacemaking efforts and agreements since the beginning of the conflict in 1979. The leftist Najibullah Ahmadzai, the Mujahideen-led government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, and the Western-installed governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani all pursued political settlements based on the principles of power-sharing and democratic governance but failed. Since its formation in 1994, the Taliban has remained consistent in its ambition of total victory and establishing “a pure Islamic government”. The Taliban is not primarily a nationalistic insurgency fighting a foreign occupation, but an ideological movement determined to re-establish a political order that is in alignment with Pakistan’s geo-strategic ambitions. The presence of international troops is an obstacle to the Taliban’s goal.

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