Two months ago, the historic peace negotiations between the official government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban anti-government militia began in Doha. Many nations gave their verbal support to the efforts. Since the talks began, the Taliban have steadfastly refused to reduce casualties across Afghanistan. The purposeful murders of women and children, especially students in their classrooms, have not shown that the Taliban are serious about negotiating for peace. As civilian casualties mount and many of them appear to be war crimes, the Afghan people are expectedly suspect of the Taliban motives for entering into peace negotiations.
I read some drafts of upcoming newspaper articles and essays written by young Afghans. Their hopes are wavering, and their disgust at the daily murder of young Afghans is raw and justified. The world should be taking more actions to end this brutality.
Meanwhile in Doha, Qatar
Arguments over the rules/guidelines that the negotiations should follow continue in Doha. The Taliban want the U.S.-Taliban agreement to be a part of the rules of the new negotiations, but not the U.S.-Afghanistan agreement signed hours before the Doha signing.
The Taliban misunderstand the role of the U.S.-Taliban talks and agreement. The underlying mission of all Taliban talks with the U.S. and every other nation since 2010, when the Afghan government extended the first olive branch to the Taliban, was to get direct Afghan government to Taliban negotiations to start.
Now that direct talks have begun, the rules of the negotiations must be negotiated. The Taliban can ask for what they want, and so can the government delegation. In the end, the rules of the negotiations are not as important as the incremental progress towards peace.
In this regard, the Taliban have not taken positive steps during the first two months of the peace negotiations. They have done nothing to build trust with the Afghan delegation or Afghan people. The Taliban refusal to enter into even a short/limited cease-fire with the Afghan government signals that the Taliban are not interested in peace.
What can be done?
The Afghan delegation can continue to press the Taliban to enter into a limited cease-fire as a trust-building exercise. They can also ask for assurances that Afghan civilians, especially women and children be put off limits to Taliban violence while negotiations continue.
The Afghan government can continue to order the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) to protect the Afghan people and themselves from Taliban violence and war crimes. The ANDSF should continue to ask their NATO security partners to assist in stopping Taliban violence against Afghan civilians and infrastructure.
NATO and the Other Coalition Security Partners
NATO and the other coalition security partners should continue to assist the ANDSF: to fight the Taliban, mentor the ANDSF to improve its weakest capabilities, and establish long-term security agreements with the Afghan government. Those security agreements should specify that funding will be tied to the long-term continuation of the ANDSF as the official security forces of Afghanistan. This can be used as a tool by the Afghan government in their negotiations with the Taliban. The world will not support the wholesale recreation of a new security force in Afghanistan. The Taliban and Pakistan need to realize that scrapping the ANDSF and starting over is not an option. The Taliban will need to find a way to fold into the existing force in any peace agreement. Pakistan will need to learn to live with a capable and professional Afghan security force as its neighbor.
Additionally, the NATO led coalition could stop the withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan and even deploy more special operations forces to hunt terrorists beside their ANDSF partners. The Taliban should not mistake the withdrawal of forces as a permanent decision. Withdrawal of non-Afghan forces is completely contingent on the Taliban making serious progress to create peace and demonstrated decreases in violence.
The international community can continue to pressure the Taliban, Pakistan, and other nations that support the Taliban militants. The Taliban could have their visas revoked for 60 days, forcing their delegation to return to their homes in Pakistan to think about how to reduce violence in Afghanistan. This is not a suggestion to end the Afghan Peace Negotiations, but rather a way for the International Community to jointly pressure the Taliban to get serious about violence reduction. The continuation of Taliban attacks on innocent Afghan women and children is a war crime at this point in the conflict, because the Taliban have a clear path to a cease fire (even if limited) at their disposal.
The international community might also look at sanctions on members of the Pakistani government, especially the military, intelligence organizations, and the diplomatic corps. If Pakistan is so close to the Taliban militants that they are welcomed with hugs and smiles when they visit Pakistani government buildings, then Pakistan ought to be able to stop the murder of Afghan women and children by the Taliban. Refusing to put the necessary pressure on the Taliban to decrease violence at this stage is akin to aiding war criminals. Maybe it is time for all the visas of the Pakistani military to be revoked, and their families too. Other broad economic sanctions against the already crashing Pakistan economy might cause the Pakistani government to pay more than lip service to their so-called support for a peace process.
At the End of the Day
In the end, the Afghans will decide whether this peace process will bring security or bring a new round of violence. Afghans will find it difficult to be hopeful in the outcomes of peace talks if some of these measures are not taken to increase pressure on the Taliban. The long-term solution to the violence in Afghanistan is unity among the Afghans and education to decrease the recruitment pool of militants and terrorists. Unity is difficult in nations that are not at war, as recent elections around the globe have proven. Education is difficult to conduct when security is lacking. The world should not give up on their efforts to help bring an end to over 40 years of conflict in Afghanistan. There are many tools at the disposal of the Afghan government, the Taliban delegation, and every nation in the NATO-led coalition to get the peace talks to find some progress in the most critical area—decreasing violence against civilians.