Alwaght- These days are very important for Afghanistan. While the Taliban group is engaged in talks with the US, the presidential candidates are registering for the July election. On the other side, the prospects of peace and stability conditions remain largely shrouded in mystery. Fierce clashes between government forces and Taliban fighters in cities like Baghlan, Badakhshan, Kunduz, Kandahar, Helmand, and Urozgan are going on. Despite over three rounds of the US-Taliban talks, still no sign of peace is in sight.
Peace process uncertainty, home political divisions, and continued violence make the nation’s situation worrisome after 17 years of the US occupation, something compounding the future for the country.
Afghanistan's politics are under the influence of the peace talks, developments in war field, and presidential election.
Delicate peace negotiations
Taliban's negotiations with Trump’s special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad are underway in fits and starts. So far, no much information has been leaked to the media from inside the talks and even no images of the meetings were published. But a couple of times, the Taliban threatened to quit the negotiations.
Afghan government’s approach to the peace process shows that Kabul is not against a potential deal with the insurgents. But it is worried that its role is not central in the talks. Kabul leaders expected Washington to press Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. But in practice, the expectation was not met.
Some Pakistani media, citing informed sources, have revealed that one of the Taliban’s demands to continue the dialogue was revocation of the Washington-Kabul security pact which allows the American military deployment to the war-torn country. The US has not responded positively to the demands, the media report.
On the opposite side, the US envoy’s reaction to the demand contained a warning. Days before the fourth round of talks started, Zalmay Khalilzad threatened that the US will continue to fight the Taliban if the latter quit the negotiations. So, the broad gap separating the two sides’ demands makes any positive view of the future hardly realistic.
Amid the peace talks, the tensions with the central government are on the rise. The government’s armed opponents have grown stronger and very frequently attack various provinces. A majority of southern provinces are now out of the Kabul control. In other parts of the country, the anti-government militant forces have gained a considerable toehold. These developments have been drawing concerns of the people.
This situation becomes even more complicated if we know that the new wave of Afghanistan violence is not about Afghanistan itself. Rather, it is linked to the US policies in West Asia, Caucasus, and Central Asia regions.
Afghanistan gets even further significance as it serves as a military base for the US amid escalating tensions with Russia in Eastern Europe. Afghanistan is the most suitable area and base from which Washington can take anti-Moscow measures in retaliation to the Russian moves in Crimea Peninsula and Kerch Strain, both involving the West’s ally Ukraine.
On the other side, a look back at the Taliban attacks over the past eight months, we can conclude the Taliban have reached areas beyond their traditional Urban spheres of influence in the south. Now they have access to the key roots and vital cities around the capital Kabul, including Kapisa and Nangarhar provinces.
The Taliban may not be able to seize the capital using force similar to the seizure of the 1990s, but is capable of running continued instability. The fact that there is no chance of complete victory over the militant group is troublesome to the Americans and their allies in the country. After all, they cannot simultaneously address several fronts— Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and very recently Venezuela, especially that the current US administration wants to cut the military spending around the world. In an effort to address this difficult situation, the US struggles to devise a process to move out of Afghanistan quagmire while keeping on the country’s soil its military bases and the sway in the politics.
Ethno-sectarian polarity widens as election draws closer
The outlook of holding the July election is not clear yet. The election was first postponed under the US pressures for three months. The Taliban conditions to stay in the talks were influential in the postponement. Forming an interim administration, foreign forces’ full pullout, and amending the election law were the key Taliban demands to join a peace deal. In such conditions, holding the election will make no sense.
On the other hand, the Afghan politicians have contradicting view that overshadow the talks with the Taliban. While the predominantly-Pashtun President Ashraf Ghani’s government, due to ethnic bonds, puts much effort on engaging the Taliban into the politics through talks, non-Pashtuns view the negotiations with pessimism. They find Ghani’s agenda working towards unification of power in his hands and elimination of other groups, including the Hazaras and Uzbeks.
This ethno-sectarian division has very well shown itself in the politics. The most noticeable mark was the ouster of General Abdul Rashid Dostum from Ghani’s team. Dostum, an Uzbek, served as vice-president before defecting from Ghani cabinet under pressures and accusations.
Over the past few years, the Hazaras have been growing discontented with Ghani's government. But Abdullah Abdullah, a Hazara and the CEO of the government, has failed to meet their demands, signaling he cannot do much to fight discrimination against the minority.
Since the beginning, Ghani adopted a policy of restriction of non-Pashtun’s access to the national unity government. He recently sacked Mohammad Mohaghegh, an aide to Abdullah Abdullah, allowing the gaps to grow wider ahead of the election.
The election race is expected to be warm and spirited but odds are that post-election disputes will hit the country as they did in 2014. In the middle of such dispute-prone situation, the government of president Ghani is expected to maximize its efforts to remove the election fraud concerns. So far, many opposition figures have warned of fraud in the upcoming election.