On February 28, 2018, Ashraf Ghani presented, what many label, a “comprehensive” peace offer to the Taliban at the Kabul Process II. Since then, a web of “political analysts” have written opinion pieces in support of Ghani’s bold move thanks to his vast influential network of friends and supporters in global mass media. Quite frankly, almost every piece written is inclined to praise President Ghani for his peace offer to the Taliban, a group of ruthless terrorists engaged in terrorizing and killing innocent people since 1996.
The Taliban are globally known for their facilitating role in the tragic attacks of 9/11 that horrified the world. This is, indeed, unfortunate that mainstream international media and “political analysts” have implicitly echoed a narrative most suitable to Ghani and the Taliban sympathizers while, whether intentionally or not, ignoring the other sides of the story.
As expected, President Ghani has been working tirelessly to promote his Taliban friendly agenda and build consensus at regional and international levels through intense diplomacy. Instantaneously, he has done well considering the blockbuster Tashkent Conference (March 26-27, 2018) where high-ranking officials from Russia and the European Union showed up to legitimize Ghani’s longstanding efforts to bring the Taliban in the realm of Afghan politics ceremoniously.
Of course, Afghans desire peace more than war, but they have always been reluctant to reconcile with the Taliban who have been so remorseless in their warfare tactics, in which they have indiscriminately targeted civilians at places of worship, highways, schools and city centers.
Also, because of the Taliban’s medieval vision for a society on the basis of a delusional theocratic system where freedom, liberty and women’s rights have no place.
Just a month before President Ghani’s shocking peace offer to the Taliban, this terrorist group masterminded a sanguinary suicide bombing at the heart of Kabul city that killed more than a hundred of innocent civilians, including children and injured another three hundred.
Horrific images from the scenes of the bombing angered many viewers and led to the waves of condemnations at home and abroad; President Trump issued an immediate live statement while in a meeting with the UN Security Council representatives. “We don’t want to talk with the Taliban”. He said and continued: “There may be a time, but it’s going to be a long time”.
President Trump’s strong rhetoric was well received in Afghanistan, particularly among the anti-Taliban advocates, and was viewed as a major development to shape the Afghan government’s puzzling policy towards the Taliban. In fact, Ghani’s spokespersoninstantly echoed President Trump’s statement by saying that the Taliban has crossed a “red line” and it was time “to look for peace on the battlefield”.
Taliban’s Lady Luck
For unknown reasons, in the last 16 years, the Taliban have been tacitly provided with political life support in times that they should have been defeated and eliminated. Especially during former President Karzai’s terms (2002-2014), the Taliban used to getundeclared protections when they were on the verge of elimination. This time, however, all indications were pointing as if the time had finally arrived to eliminate the Taliban at last.
Perhaps not, as mysterious news started to surface the websites of global mass media on February 22, 2018. Almost every major news channel was talking about an open letter from the Taliban, cornered and frightened by President Trump’s angry call for a“decisive action” against them, to the American government pleading for direct talks.
Mesmerizingly, an open letter to the Taliban from an American citizen, a former US Diplomat, and a longtime acquaintance of Ghani appeared in the New Yorker on February 27, 2018, urging the Taliban to initiate direct talks with the Afghan government.
As mumbo jumbo this may sound, the “open” letters brought the Taliban’s lady luck yet again and created an enabling environment for Ghani to present his confounding peace offer to the Taliban. At a time, many were expecting the international coalition and the Afghan government to announce a shift of direction from talks to action against the Taliban.
Surprisingly, even President Trump’s earlier anti-Taliban rhetoric did not take “a long time” to fade away. His call: “all countries should take decisive action against the Taliban” on January 27, 2018, was translated into a pro-Taliban declaration in a surprising turn of events at the Kabul Process II a month later. The United States was one of the 26 countries to endorse the declaration while forsaking justice for the blood of innocent Afghans and slain American service personnel killed by the Taliban.
Nonetheless, the start of 2018 has brought a rollercoaster ride for Afghans with objectionable turns of events through which the Taliban and Ghani seem to have emerged victorious. Right now, Ghani has an immense political leverage at home and abroad to make any kinds of deals with the Taliban as he may wish.
No unified domestic voice is raised to challenge Ghani’s unilateral peace talk with the Taliban. His tactical diplomatic maneuver to seek Uzbekistan’s support to hold the Tashkent Conference has not only granted him the required regional consensus to move forward with or without Pakistan but also handed him the opportunity to steal away General Dostum’s main kin state in the neighborhood. Uzbekistan provided great support to Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek against the Taliban in the late 90s.
Senile Voices of Dissent
President Ghani has caught anti-Taliban forces off guard in his peace politicking. Opponents are in an awkward situation where any dissent against the holy virtue of peace would put them on the other side of the equation as “spoilers” of peace, and thus they are forced into submission.
Nevertheless, days prior to Ghani’s peace offer to the Taliban, the “self-exiled” Vice President General Dostum expressed concern from Turkey for the peace talks with the Taliban in his absence for obvious reasons considering his role in the massacre of the Taliban fighters in the early 2000s. He accused circles within Afghan Presidential Palace to intentionally exclude him from the peace talks.
Salahuddin Rabbani, foreign minister, and the head of Jamiat-e-Islami of Afghanistan, a political party with anti-Taliban background that is seen as the only force that Ghani has to reckon with domestically, stated: “any move to marginalize diverse communities will further complicate and prolong our peace efforts” while addressing participants of Kabul Process II. Both Ghani and the Taliban leadership are from the same ethnic group, Pashtun.
Another member of Jamiat-e-Islami, Ismael Khan called upon the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the “Mujahideen”, not Ghani. He, in fact, got an immediate response from the Taliban whereas Ghani has not.
Peace as Reconciliation or Alliance for War
The essence of peace is reconciliation among the parties involved in a war, without this substance, peace is nothing, but a dangerous political maneuver in an ethnically heterogeneous country like Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s wish for direct talks with the Americans and Ismael Khan is to reconcile with the foes that ousted them from power in 2001. Ghani has never fought the Taliban to reconcile now. His call for peace with the Taliban sounds more like a call for an alliance against others that could mean preparation for war in Afghanistan plagued by ethnic conflicts.
President Ghani’s first provincial trips, on the back of the Tashkent Conference, were to the South, Pashtun dominated areas. He inaugurated infrastructural projects and demanded their participation in the upcoming elections.
Portrayed as an ethnonationalist by non-Pashtuns at home, Ghani is, indeed, making a dangerous move to ally with the Taliban similar to the deal brokered with his fellow tribesmen, Hekmatyar earlier. Ethnic tensions proved to rise during presidential elections, with the Taliban potentially “participating”, Afghans may have to fasten their seatbelts tighter to endure the turbulence ahead.
(This article was published first at https://jihadicowboy.wordpress.com)