Notwithstanding years of efforts by President Hamid Karzai and the relevant international actors, peace is still elusive. It is abundantly clear that the decade long military and diplomatic efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan have failed to produce results.
Everyone tried everything, but to no avail. Was it the wrong focus, the incoherency of strategies, the ego clashes, incompetence, misunderstanding and miscalculation, or simple oversight of not paying attention to those who matter in this fight?
Efforts to conduct peace talks with the Taliban from 2011 onwards have resulted in the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar, where negotiations have since hit a deadlock. After initial negotiations where there had been talk of a prisoner exchange, the office was closed as a reaction to accusations of trying to gain legitimacy by calling the office The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the removal of the flag it displayed by authorities.
In August 2013 President Karzai called on Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to seek his cooperation and facilitation of the Afghan peace process. Pakistan has since promised to persuade the Taliban to relocate their office to either Turkey or Saudi Arabia. President Karzai has insisted that any Afghan peace process should involve its neighbors – especially Pakistan – and be Afghan-led which means that the Afghan High Peace Council will play the key role in negotiations. The High Peace Council came up with a roadmap for peace consisting of five-step plan towards disarming of different armed groups, and giving them immunity from prosecution for past crimes despite the fact that some of the detained Taliban insurgents were accused of war crimes.
Of late, President Karzai, not achieving the peace he wanted during his 12 years in office, seems to suggest that everyone else (Taliban and Him representing the will of the Afghans) want peace except the United States and Pakistan. His rambling that if the United States and Pakistan want peace in Afghanistan, it will be done in no time. And the conspiracy theories abound.
Taliban had more casualties then the international and Afghan forces combined
Pakistan repeatedly denied having any influence over the Taliban, a view contrary to the beliefs of most Afghans and some international diplomats and experts. Some evidence suggests Pakistan might have some influence. Equally important there is evidence of Pakistan’s intentions and efforts towards peace negotiation mainly the release of top Taliban leaders at the request of the High Peace Council. It has been said that the use of force cannot achieve durable peace in any society. And Afghanistan is no exception to this rule. Both the international community (who are leaving after a decade of military operation) and Afghans (who are tired of war and conflict) agree that it is time to end this conflict through negotiation and reconciliation.
Pundits from around the globe are now assessing and opining on who won the war in Afghanistan and that the Americans failed to secure the country or defeat the Taliban. And that the international community knew better they cannot achieve peace by military means. The corollary applies to the Taliban. No one won the war, but Afghans secured a fundamental change in their society and government structure. Afghanistan is on its way to prosperity and peace if not today, but in the near future. The progress made is irreversible.
Statistically speaking, the Taliban have had more casualties then the international and Afghan forces combined. They have not achieved anything. Various organizations tracking war casualties, the United States and the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs report more than 13 thousand Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) killed in this war, 16 thousand wounded, more than 3 thousand international forces killed, and nearly 20 thousand Afghan civilians losing their lives. But more than 35 thousand Taliban have lost their lives in the conflict.
Afghanistan is a nation of 30 million. The Afghans have a democratic system and an elected government now. Taliban are estimated to be in the thousands who oppose this democratic system and the government starting with the Constitution. Taliban also oppose international forces in Afghanistan. Thus, this is the crux of the conflict or at least as we know it.
Mullah Omar is revered and the is leader of the Taliban. He is still in control of the Afghan Taliban, in the past he has also influenced Pakistani Taliban, and at times has helped the leadership to broker numerous peace deals between the Taliban in Khayber Pashtunkwa. Mullah Omar’s authority extends beyond Afghanistan’s border as Pakistani Taliban also recognize him as their Ameerul Momineen, just like the Afghan Taliban.
It is now time to engage Mullah Omar directly. He is the one who can bring peace to Afghanistan. The Afghan people must appeal to Mullah Omar and ask him to return. He is the one who can tell his followers to lay down arms and return home. At his age, it is only natural to live the remaining days of his life not in hiding but on his farm in Kandahar. He must also long for peace for himself and his family. It is time for Mullah Omar to return to his farm and home.
Any desire for change in Afghanistan to achieve higher objectives could be done through this democratic system in a peaceful manner. Anyone can run for office, become parliamentarian to change the law, establish advocacy institute, write, and engage in the development of Afghanistan as he or she sees fit without encroaching upon other’s God-given rights. Mullah Omar and the Taliban can still engage in bringing change to Afghanistan, but they have to use peaceful tools now at their disposal. If they do that, history will remember them for good reasons.