Real-Time Evaluation of Afghan President Ghani’s Peace Policy
The solutions for making peace with the Taliban presented by President Ghani are a good point of departure, but they are not sufficiently viable and legitimate policy options.
Over the last century, Afghanistan has been the epicenter of good but mostly bad things that happened in Central and South Asia. Not surprisingly, the problems and solutions associated with reaching a peace agreement with the Taliban group are viewed differently by the involved stakeholders.
Noticeable progress has been made in the last three years. President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani’s administration has been able to broaden the scope of deliberations on the peace process. Apparently, everyone has finally agreed on bringing peace to Afghanistan. However, the real challenge is considering everyone’s interests and reaching an agreement on who gets what and how much.
The point of this article is, however, to scrutinize Ghani’s peace process and discuss the problems inherent to his policy.
Who Guides the Process?
First, President Ghani needs to stop presenting a social problem as a political and technical one. His authoritarian development scheme does not contain the required ingredients to form a solution. He needs to add value to his major economic projects by safeguarding political freedoms and institutional transformation instead of restricting rights and freedoms for the sake of economic development.
One way to do this is to come out of his “expert/elite” comfort zone and try to engage ordinary citizens in the peace process. If Ghani wants his peace policy to enjoy the people’s support, it is vital to take into account different views and arguments including of those who have failed, so far, to penetrate his “fortress of experts” and influence his definition of the Taliban problem.
In the present situation, where the distance between the government and the nation is growing, Ghani and his team’s mere expertise, as well as their anticipation of the people’s needs, may not be a viable policy option for sustainable peace.
The issue is that the peace process is led by a small group of Arg-based, Western-educated political elites, who lack firsthand understanding of the socio-political context of the country. They have a pre-decided solution without having sought to suitably define and build citizens’ consensus around the problem. Ghani’s solution is making peace with Taliban in the same way he did with former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, but ignoring the Taliban’s affiliation with other terrorist groups and their rigid ideological beliefs leaves no room for the public domain’s deliberation.
President Ghani and his clique do not seem to bother so much about the problem that the Taliban, at its core, is an ethnocentric and religious fundamentalist group who oppose progress and diversity. The general purpose of Ghani’s peace policy should be strengthening democracy instead of legitimizing a pre-determined solution.
What Guides the Process?
For nearly two decades, the Taliban has been waging a deadly war against Afghanistan’s government and continuously called the government a puppet and un-Islamic regime occupied by a foreign “infidel” country.
The fact that the Taliban opposed and fiercely fought against the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani between 1992 and 1996, which was established on the basis of a rigid interpretation of Islam and Sharia principles, is proof of the group’s ethnocentric aspirations. The Taliban fought Rabbani’s government because it was not Pashtun-dominated, not because they wanted to improve the life of Afghans.
Even today, it is hard to believe that the Taliban will stop at the fulfillment of their primary conditions. The reconfiguration of the constitution into a light fundamentalist version and the departure of foreign troops are the group’s primary conditions, but not the end goal.
From the Taliban’s past and present conduct, one can conclude that they will not stop for anything less than a solid promise that the old order will resuscitate, in which all ethnic groups unconditionally have to submit to the rule of the Pashtun ethnic group. Fortunately, the post-Taliban socio-political order has reduced, if not eliminated, the likelihood of such a terrifying condition to become a reality.
The Taliban decided not to extend the ceasefire because they still haven’t secured the possibility of re-establishing an exclusivist political system. With their most sought-after cards of “negotiations without any preconditions” and “international troops departure” now on the table, one is left wondering what further concessions they are after before agreeing to stop killing people.
What is Needed?
The solutions presented by President Ghani are a good point of departure. However, they are not sufficiently viable and legitimate policy options. Institutions such as the Constitution, on which President Ghani relies more than frequently, can be used to achieve some level of formality. But a peace proposal to the Taliban can only be legitimate and viable if it contributes to the post-Taliban democracy and further strengthening of the post-2014 elections order.