Presently, Afghanistan’s history is once again witnessing an uncertain and bleak situation due to the changing dynamics of the war-torn country. If one reminds the late 1980s when a superpower, the Soviet Union was preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan after a decade, future plans were underway. Now another superpower US is going to withdraw from Afghanistan, after a continued war of two decades. How much making a new workable set-up is possible is still uncertain where there are sharp differences among the views of the parties concerned; the US, the Ghani administration, and the Taliban.
Earlier this month, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan presented a draft outlined by Washington proposing an interim government till the settlement of the existing conflict. Khalilzad shared the proposal with President Ghani, other political leaders of Afghanistan, the Taliban, and the civil society leadership. The proposal has come out at a time when the US troops deadline May 1, agreed in the Doha deal last year is looming. In any major development vis-à-vis Afghanistan’s future political set-up, the Doha deal is quite decisive. The Doha deal had provided a solid roadmap although difficult but quite possible only if the administration in Kabul took it seriously and started the intra-Afghan talks in time. However, President Ghani delayed the release of the Taliban prisoners which eventually delayed the peace process to reach any settlement.
The US-drafted proposal suggests an interim government that has to include the Taliban in the Afghan parliament by expanding it or even suspending it till the election or any other suitable solution. The new proposed set up which would have the Taliban representation as well is supposed to curb any terrorist activity on Afghan soil. The proposal further suggests the Taliban would have to cut military ties with other countries and abandon its sanctuaries in the neighboring countries. Even though Pakistan has played a positive role while providing all of its good offices for the negotiations in recent years; some of the insinuations in this proposal are perhaps signaled towards Pakistan. It is believed by many in the US that Islamabad has long been supporting the Taliban even when Pakistan was a frontline state in the war on terror.
The plan is all set in Washington’s favor. If implemented, it would be easy for the US to withdraw by the May 1 deadline which is quite close — an objective Washington has in hand vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Besides, the plan provides for a broad-based ‘executive administration’ where members from various ethnic groups in addition to women would be included. While to maintain peace, a ceasefire would be observed and monitored by a board appointed by the interim President, and both the parties while the three-member international groups would be on board.
The Biden administration’s latest plan is quite significant and intends to guide any future development in Afghanistan or at the very least it would have a role in it. However, the real question is how the concerned parties — the Taliban and the Afghan government look at this proposal which is almost impossible to implement without their consent. The Taliban, as well as President Ghani, both have opposed the US’ proposal. The Taliban spokesperson, Muhammad Naeem, told the reporters that when we look at the past in our country, we have seen many representative governments made during various times, however, no one has succeeded or could solve the problem. Thus, we want to have an Islamic system that would solve the issues of the country. This implies that the Taliban want to impose their own interpreted Islamic government where they could have a dominant position. The Taliban does not seem to get back from their core demands.
On the contrary, the Ghani administration also dismissed the idea by saying, “We would not accept an interim set-up through a conference or a political deal.” Ghani since the US-Taliban Doha agreement is of the view: I am an elected leader by the people and I would complete my term. When Ghani last year on March 1 refused to release Taliban prisoners, the Taliban made it clear he is struggling for his own vested interests rather than that of the Afghans. Taliban view: If he was honest to the people, he would go for a solution but he just needs to rule the country no matter how much violence increases by the delay of the intra-Afghan talks and the subsequent agreement.
Washington haste is clearly evident from the announcement — they expect the UN to engage and arrange peace talks having a dozen of countries on board, including Iran, China, Pakistan, India, and Russia. It’s not clear whether the regional countries having stakes in Afghanistan can find a common ground in Afghanistan and set aside using Afghan soil for their own interests or not. The Biden administration believes they have an opportunity to end their longest war and withdraw from Afghanistan in any possible way that could be at least face-saving for them. The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken’s letter to president Ghani was in a quite blunt language dictating Ghani: come in line with the US plan.
The Trump administration did not put considerable pressure on President Ghani to release the Taliban prisoners which was a condition for the start of the intra-Afghan talks. And then the Biden administration took enough time to pressure Kabul to be serious and accelerate the face of the intra-Afghan talks which delayed the start of the intra-Afghan talks for six months. If there was enough pressure on Kabul from Washington to abide by the Doha deal, the situation would be different and the Biden administration would have time to settle the Afghan quagmire in the best possible way, not in haste that appears a plan for now.