Notwithstanding the enthusiasm surrounding the Afghan presidential polls, there is little hope that the new government will be able to make any meaningful progress towards bringing peace to Afghanistan. Fundamentally, Afghanistan’s strings continue to be pulled from Washington and the question of whether the 19 years old war is to end or not is the last thing that the new government, or anyone in Afghanistan, will be able to decide. This is just political euphoria likely to vanish soon as the war will intensify following the US president’s unilateral cancellation of talks with the Taliban and the decision to call off the peace deal.
Former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who is an enthusiastic supporter of peace deal with the Taliban said in a recent interview that the election “has all the potential and possibilities to lead the country further down to the abyss of crisis and insecurity and divisions.” When elections, particularly those marred by rigging and conflicting votes, cannot bring peace; peace should be given a chance to pave the way for free and fair elections. To quote Karzai again, “We cannot conduct elections in a country that is going through a foreign-imposed conflict. We are in a war of foreign objectives and interests. It isn’t our conflict. We are only dying in it.”
The foreign funded conflict has various dimensions, far from the only one that we continue to hear about. For one thing, even the US government isn’t really enthusiastic about the prospects of Ashraf Ghani enjoying another term, nor is it fully confident of the Ghani regime’s ability to serve US interests.
On September 19, the US State Department said in a statement that they were “returning approximately $100 million to the US Treasury that was intended for a large energy infrastructure project” due to what the statement said, “identified Afghan Government corruption and financial mismanagement.” Expressing further lack of confidence in the Afghan government, the statement said, “We also have concluded that the Afghan government’s Monitoring and Evaluation Committee is incapable of being a partner in the international effort to build a better future for the Afghan people.”
The US authorities know the Ghani regime was always incapable, and the Afghan political elite, too, knows the fact first hand. On September 23, in a meeting held in Kabul between Afghanistan’s prominent politicians, including Karzai and former Mujahideen leaders, and former Taliban, it was decided that a pre-requisite for peace was not elections but “The US-Taliban talks” that need to “resume as soon as possible in order to open the way for “official” intra-Afghan negotiations.”
This, of course, cannot happen unless the US decides to end its war. The war, however, cannot simply end through negotiations. Its way more complex than the apparent fight between the US forces and the Taliban. According to a latest report of Watson Institute of Brown University, it is the CIA funded Afghan militias that are one of the biggest problems. “The CIA-supported militias are a particularly troublesome version of the regionally based militias in Afghanistan that have developed over the years around local strongmen with external support”, the report says on its very opening page, and continues to show that “the militias reportedly have committed serious human rights abuses, including numerous extrajudicial killings of civilians. CIA sponsorship ensures that their operations are clouded in secrecy. There is virtually no public oversight of their activities or accountability for grave human rights abuses.”
The report further says that “there is no public disclosure of the size of the CIA-supported units, but they probably” have grown up from 3,000 in 2010 to 10,000 in 2018. According to the 2019 UNAMA report, these forces are mainly the main face of grave human rights abuses and civilian deaths in Afghanistan. To quote the said report, there are “continuing reports of the Khost Protection Force [one the CIA funded groups] carrying out human rights abuses, intentionally killing civilians, illegally detaining individuals, and intentionally damaging and burning civilian property during search operations and night raids.”
There is no gainsaying that continuing deaths at the hands of CIA-funded groups as well as US Special Operations Forces is unlikely to contribute to peace. On the other hand, the US president’s decision to call off talks with the Taliban due to the death of a US soldier in a Taliban attack can only be considered a lame excuse to prolong the war, especially when the US forces and the CIA-funded groups have not only been fighting the Taliban all along but also killing common Afghans without any discrimination whatsoever.
What the Afghan needs to realize is that peace—real peace—cannot return to their country as long as the US Forces and the CIA-funded groups continue to wage their war and resist talks and negotiations with the Taliban to end the war. The fact that the CIA has bolstered its local militias shows that they are the ones most opposed to any peace deal, and that they are the ones most opposed to mainstreaming the Taliban in the political arena.
The conundrum, however, remains that there is no alternative, even after 19 years of continuous war and the death of thousands of people, way of ending the war other than through a genuine deal with the Taliban, a deal that, as the September 23 statement of Afghan politicians said, is “transparent, national, Afghanistan-inclusive and led by Afghans”, and ensures “Afghan’s sovereignty” all over the country i.e., brings the US residual forces as well as CIA militias under Afghan control through appropriate legal infrastructure.
Therefore, unless this happens, mere elections in Afghanistan would no good to its people.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.