Round Table Discussion on the Fallacy of the Peace Process in Afghanistan

Dr. Omar Sadr speaks at the National Security Think Tank

Dr. Omar Sadr, Senior Researcher at the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS), conducted a public lecture on the ‘Fallacy of the Afghan Peace Process,’ based on his publication with the AISS on 16 January. The participants included members of the military and distinguished academics.

The author began his discussion with a brief history of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The author mentioned how in the aftermath of the US intervention of Afghanistan in 2001, the US and Afghan Governments had different strategies in dealing with the entity. 

While in the aftermath of 9/11 the Bush administration took a more hardline militaristic stance, the Karzai administration took a decidedly softer approach by calling the Taliban “disadvantaged,” and forged secret contacts with the military group. 

By 2007, the author mentioned that fighting had come to a stalemate and that the US and Afghan Government looked to negotiate with the Taliban.  

In line with this, the United States laid out three principles for negotiations including: insurgents should accept constitutional order as framework, renounce violence and renounce affiliation with international terrorist groups.

Different types of talks

The speaker mentioned that there had been different types of talks with the Taliban in order to achieve these objectives. One type of talks was high-level talks. These talks comprised negotiations between the Afghan and US governments with the Taliban. A second approach has been ‘talks for talks’ mandated High Consul of Peace. The purpose of these talks had been to serve as a precursor to more formal negotiations. A third approach was known as the reintegration of low level Taliban rank and file. This entailed economic incentives for low Taliban operatives to defect. The speaker mentioned that all these three approaches had failed because the Taliban rank and file had largely maintained a very hardline ideology. 

A fourth approach has been track 2 efforts by research think tanks. These talks had been more effective in ascertaining the nature, stance and demands of Taliban. A fifth type of talks had been local peace deals with individual Taliban units at regional levels. These talks had not led to a tangible outcome since the rank and file of the Taliban have largely refused to compromise. 

Different proposals offered

The speaker also outlined the different proposals offered to the Taliban during the course of the talks. 

These include Ashraf Gani’s peace proposal in 2017 for the Taliban to renounce violence and establish a new political party and Hamid Karzai’s offer for the Taliban to join the Afghan government at an executive level. 

Other offers the speaker spoke of included settlement for the Taliban in exchange of rights and democracy. However, the author mentioned that all of these proposals were rejected by the Taliban.

What the Taliban wants

The Taliban rejected the peace overtures by the Afghan Government because its demands were incompatible with the interests of the US and Afghan Governments. The speaker mentioned that the Taliban wanted a withdrawal of international troops, which the US may have been willing to accommodate. 

The speaker also mentioned that the Taliban wanted to transform Afghanistan’s existing constitutional system in order to reflect its own ideology and interests. At present, they will not even negotiate with the Afghan Government. This indicates that the goal of peace is a “fallacy” because the Taliban is unwilling to give up extremism and adhere to a constitution that is accepting of democracy and pluralism. 

Perception of attitudes of people 

The speaker also spoke of measuring public attitudes to the peace process. From a survey carried out among over 2,000 people, he made the following points.

Regarding cognitive orientation (knowledge of different aspects of peace process,) Afghans do not know much about the peace process, such as the stance of the Taliban or the stance of the US. When it comes to governance of Afghanistan awareness is slightly higher. 

Regarding effective orientation (how they feel about the process), most Afghans have negative views of the Taliban, and believe that they are associated with Al Qaeda and ISIS. In addition, very few people hold the Taliban to be legitimate due to ties with Al Qaeda and ISIS. 

Notably, over 60% of the population feel that the peace process has failed due to a combination of weak governance, negative influences by neighbouring countries, lack of transparency in institutions, and the unwillingness of the Taliban to give up their extremist terrorist ideology. Consequently, many people have become resigned to the failure of the peace process.

Finally, the author notes that the majority of the Afghan people wants peace, and is willing to compromise in terms of providing amnesty or power sharing. However, they are not willing to live under the Taliban’s ideology, and amend the Constitution to that effect. Another important detail is that the Pashtun ethnic group is more likely to hold favourable views about the Taliban compared to other ethnic groups.