It’s very pleasing to see that we are now at a juncture where everyone is talking about peace talks. It has dominated the current political and social discussion in Afghanistan, the region and the West. We are no longer talking about more wars and there is no stalemate of uncertainty anymore. Unlike previously, this round every stakeholder in Afghanistan is on board with peace talks that should hopefully bring an end to the last 17-long years of war. In fact, if managed wisely it will bring an end to nearly 40 years of tragedies for the Afghan people. So peace talks with the Taliban is a welcome news for all Afghans.
However, amidst all the push for these talks its paramount as an Afghan citizen to think about a few essential items; on what terms is this peace going to come? What’s its price? And where is it going to lead us? These are all important questions mainly because we have a baggage and experience of history as well as achievements of the last 17 years. Our history tells us that our political class has previously made grave mistakes and misjudgments under the illusion of peace talks. It has led to more wars and animosity.
We also have a lesson from history that the regional powers, as well as some International allies, have fooled us for a promise of peace in our country when in fact they had other malicious motives. But probably the most bitter yet crucial conclusion we can draw from our history is that we were divided into various groups and parties as a result of which we lost our machinery of the state. That was the collapse of our entire country and the beginning of a very long painful catastrophe for all Afghans. Therefore, it is compulsory for every Afghan to spend a great deal of time to analyse all sides of these talks, but especially the interests and shenanigans of regional powers vis-à-vis peace talks and what that would entail. Gladly under the leadership of President Ghani, our government is aware of those caveats. But they need to be more active in translating and channeling those messages to the public.
Nonetheless, history is only one part of the story. There are also the achievements of the last 17 years. We have recovered from a total decay of our state institutions to a path that’s exercising all sorts of democratic and institutional norms. There is also the flow of technology. The new generation is completely interconnected with the rest of the world. Our youth are more tech-savvy and politically mature. We have made tremendous strides in every aspect of our lives. We are no longer the country of the 1990s. Our thinking and mindset on various political and social issues have gradually transformed. Hence it is upon Taliban to spare a thought into the new realities of the current day Afghanistan and how would they be able to adjust themselves to that.
It should be clear to them that as a country we don’t want to go back to the primitive and medieval days. We want to live a civilized, peaceful, moderate, progressive and modern version of life. This generation is well educated and their voice is loud. They are confident, brash and much more sophisticated. Any attempt to sabotage and misrepresent the progress we have made would be unacceptable. Therefore, we must assert and defend those values in the process of any talks if that is ever going to happen. The best entity that can defend and safeguard those values is our state. They should be at the forefront of any talks which will bring unity and clarity into our stance.
Although we haven’t read much from Taliban as to what is their vision and policies for the country (and I doubt there will be any), but from what we have heard so far from their representatives they have expressed their desire to dissolve the army and scrap the constitution. These are the kind of statements that shoot us back to the dark days of the 90s. It is unthinkable that any wise, concerned and patriotic Afghan will succumb to such preposterous demands. Needless to say that we have numerous flaws in our current governance system and state institutions. It needs constant tweaking and reforms for them to become robust and self-reliant which would be able to serve the public more effectively.
We all agree on that. But to think that we will need to erase everything we have gained as per the wishes of the Taliban is offensive to us, to say the least. It only justifies our suspicions that the Taliban’s ideas and motives are correlated more with the agenda of GHQ, Rawalpindi.
Internally, the political elite of Kabul has made the peace talks as it’s all about President Ghani. At a time when the next round of Presidential election is due in a few months, the President’s opponents are sparing no opportunity to jump into a petty and incessant PR stunt and political point scoring often at the expense of national interests. The fact is that the peace talks are far larger than the seat of a President. It’s not about Ashraf Ghani. It’s about the dignity and sovereignty of our country and every individual living in it. By undermining the state and the President, these politicians are playing at the hands of our enemies.
The only legitimate source to lead on peace talks is our state. No other political figure or individual has the authority to cross that line as its dividing us into schisms, which is a recipe for many more years of mayhem. Because this moment is the cornerstone in our history, we must all unite and gather behind our state to represent us all in any talks related to the future of Afghanistan.
For all the reasons mentioned above, we must handle the peace talks with care and wisdom. Our President is right to emphasis on that. History must not be repeated again. History must be wielded to get it right this time.
Bilal Nikyar is a Political Analyst and is a graduate of Heriot-Watt University in the United Kingdom. He tweets @nikyarb.