Negotiators representing the Taliban movement and the US government have finally found common ground to agree on the terms for a new peace agreement in Afghanistan.
But notwithstanding news of the peace on the horizon almost 18 years after the US invaded Afghanistan, there are still some powerful and compelling questions over the future of one of the world’s most war ravaged countries. As peace gets a chance in Afghanistan, and there is still a proverbial many a slip between the cup and the lip, handling the future beyond a peace agreement holds the key to preventing a return to yet another round of bloody conflict. The US which once wanted to create a western-style democracy in Afghanistan, was eventually forced to accept the Taliban as their most significant partners in Afghanistan.
Given that the Taliban appear to have invaded almost two-thirds of Afghan territory, their emergence as the most powerful stakeholder eventually became a given. In the coming weeks, the Taliban will need to reach agreements with other notable players such as the Afghan government of president Ashraf Ghani to move forward. This will be essential to pave the way for a broad-based future government that will have a chance of calling itself representative of the central Asian country.
However, there is much room for scepticism. US President Donald Trump whose administration has swallowed a once considered unpalatable deal with the Taliban, clearly has political motives. Going in to the next US presidential election campaign in 2020, Trump needs to show a visible foreign policy success story.
After spending more than a trillion dollars (Dh3.67 trillion) on the Afghan war, the US agreement to a partial withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan clearly presents an occasion for Trump to show off on the campaign trail.
For the US, Taliban guarantees of never allowing the Afghan territory to be used in future for subversive activities against the US deserves closer scrutiny. This safeguard is driven by Washington’s concern over how Al Qaida under Osama Bin Laden positioned itself in Afghanistan from where the New York terrorist attacks known as 9/11 were planned. Going forward, with a smaller US military contingent of 8,600 troops that will remain in Afghanistan dedicated mainly to intelligence-gathering, US concerns of a repeat of the pre-9/11 events are likely to be addressed.
Bridges of partnership need to be built between Afghanistan and its partners in the western world, to ultimately demonstrate the push towards creating a new and stable country.
But Afghanistan appears set to remain pauperised and therefore unable to take charge of its territory to deny space to militant causes. After four decades of conflict beginning with the 1979 invasion by troops from the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan remains without hope for its citizens. The Taliban invasion of the majority of Afghan territory ironically also furthers the acute challenge of denying space to civil society and non-governmental groups working at the grass roots.
While the Taliban claim to fame has indeed been to enhance security for households across territories under their control, their way of life will only discourage fast-paced development. As witnessed from Taliban rule over Afghanistan in the second half of the 1990s, women were practically barred from public life and forced to stay at home while men who opposed the Taliban were promptly forced to face harsh justice. Going forward, the main issues surrounding Afghanistan’s future include the country’s ability to begin reviving its economy. Though President Ghani’s credentials have been widely publicised for his background as a former technocrat with the World Bank, his tenure in Afghanistan has shown little by way of progress towards addressing a largely defunct economy.
Without a fast-paced focus on the economic front, scores of young and impoverished men from across the country will be tempted to venture towards hardline causes. Additionally, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most fertile countries for manufacturing drugs.
For the world at large, Afghanistan’s drug-fuelled economy will continue to present massive global dangers irrespective of the extent to which the arrival of terrorists with a global agenda can be blocked. While the remaining American troops in Afghanistan will be tasked to ensure that the country never repeats its pre 9/11 legacy, the streets of America and Europe will remain the target of consumers of drugs from Afghanistan.
In the follow up to the US-Taliban agreement, its also vital for the world to comprehend Islam in its true spirit. Following the 9/11 attacks, Muslims were demonised in the Western world as the prime carriers of terrorist and militaristic trends. Scores of events clearly showed how Muslims were targeted in a number of ways. Ultimately, such trends only widened the divide between the communities of Muslims and non-Muslims across the world.
With the Taliban now heading to join Afghanistan’s future democratic government, it's essential that the country must not be seen for a source of regressive values. Instead, bridges of partnership need to be built between Afghanistan and its partners in the western world, to ultimately demonstrate the push towards creating a new and stable country. In time, the Taliban need to be encouraged to appreciate the value of joining a global mainstream rather than opting out of it.
A final footnote must also stress the need to tackle challenging environments elsewhere based on popular defiance. As long as chronic disputes like the one in Palestine or Kashmir remain unresolved, many Muslims across the world will remain angry over the plight of their brethren. In that environment, Afghanistan — a weak state without widespread hope for the future, promises to remain a breeding ground for hardline values.
— Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org