What does the future hold for peace processes in Afghanistan?
The Afghanistan war began in 2001 and was shortly followed by the Bonn Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-establishment of Permanent Government Institutions which sought to assist with establishing an appropriate government after a transition period. The Bonn Agreement references reconciliation, particularly national reconciliation which meant peace, stability and respect for human rights within Afghanistan. From the outset, peace processes in Afghanistan were always going to be complicated and take several years to unfold. On 29th February 2020, the peace processes were set in motion as a conditional agreement was signed between the US government and the Taliban.
What do the peace agreements promise?
· Reduction of violence: US troops will withdraw on the condition that the ceasefire is upheld between US, Taliban and Afghan military forces.
· Withdrawal of foreign forces: Troops will be withdrawn within 14 months providing that all parties upheld their responsibilities.
· Assistance with counter terrorism: The Taliban had to agree that Afghanistan will not be used by any members, groups or individuals to threaten the security of the US and allied forces.
· Internal negotiations: Discussions need to take place between Afghanistan government and the Taliban with regards to internal power structures.
The conflict in Afghanistan has been an expansive and complex issue which has undoubtedly touched every element of life for Afghanistan’s citizens. To say that the conflict is over, and life has returned to day-to-day mundanity would be graciously inaccurate. The fact that Afghanistan has the highest proportion of citizens living with prosthetics gives a glimpse into the legacy of the war. Motivations for going into Afghanistan ranged from the war on terror to women’s liberation. In 2014, the conflict shifted from the US against the Taliban to Afghan soldiers primarily fighting on the front lines with US training and support from NATO. In total over 145,000 people died in total, including both Afghan citizens and US soldiers. With more than 2.6 million living as war refugees in other countries. Such a high number alongside the $2 trillion spent – an approximation from the Watson Institute of Brown University estimating spending up until September 2019 – raises questions of whether the conflict was worth such high costs.
Ingrid Hayden, Officer-in-Charge of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, has described the difficulty which lies ahead as Afghanistan recovers and attempts to emerge out of years of conflict. As part of the agreement, the Taliban will cut ties with Al Qaeda and thousands of Taliban prisoners will be released. Hayden outlined the upcoming issues in Afghan politics, including the threat of COVID-19 which could have a serious impact not only on the health of citizens but the fragile infrastructure which would need to support the country. In her words the main question in Afghanistan today is ‘whether its leaders can rally together to engage in meaningful peace talks with the Taliban’.
It is unclear under the current circumstances as to what conclusions the talks will have and what the inclusion of the Taliban into the Afghan government will look like. However, it is certain that the needs of the three main ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajik and Hazara, all have grievances which need to be resolved, and that a balance of power needs to be exactly that, a balance between the leaders of all the respective civil groups. Furthermore, women and girls will most certainly want to secure their place in Afghan society, protecting their right to attend school and work. Afghanistan’s United Nations Human Development Index (UN HDI) for gender sits at 0.723 which although low, has increased since Taliban rule where it sat at 0.416, thus, it is essential that the rights of women are considered during the peace talks and enshrined in any potential legislation.
From a foreign policy perspective, the future is uncertain and ideally compromises will be made which benefit Afghanistan both politically and economically. A peaceful Afghanistan involves addressing years of violence and conflict and every citizen, especially women. Thus, the importance of social development is key. As a study jointly published by CARE and Peacebuild highlights, the Afghan Constitution and the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) express the importance of the inclusion of women’s rights in the process of peace-building. Subsequently, social development is an extremely pressing issue and hopefully one which will receive sufficient attention at state level in the forthcoming discussions on peace.
At the time of writing Shannon Rayner is a student at SOAS university of London. Currently studying for her Masters degree in Middle East Politics. Her main areas of interest are gender politics, civil society and foreign policy analysis in the Middle East and Asia.