Col. Abdul Rahman Rahmani, student United States National Defense University, former staff officer on the National Security Council of Afghanistan. Jason Criss Howk is a regular columnist at ClearanceJobs News.
The possibility of peace in Afghanistan depends on four major factors: political unity in Kabul; Pakistan deciding to truly assist Afghan peace and their Taliban proxy accepting a non-military solution to the conflict; future international military support and aid; and finally; the international community committing to a peace-building mission while keeping pressure on the Taliban, Pakistanis, and Afghans to bring an end to this devastating war.
Internal political stability
Regional and transnational terrorists and the Taliban, along with the illegal drugs, smuggling, and economy are major factors that make the security situation challenging enough. Additionally, rampant corruption and the misuse of public funds have all fueled the current political instability. Those last two realities have inflamed growing ethnic tensions, sectarian unrest, and might destroy much of Afghanistan’s social fabric. Therefore, political unity is a must in any future peaceful Afghanistan. The recent US and NATO troop withdrawal announcement, as President Ashraf Ghani states, provides a historic opportunity for the political elites to come together and confront the Taliban and its backers with a unity that can bring sustainable peace in the country. We must learn from past mistakes and act on behalf of our children’s future.
Unbreakable ties between Taliban and Pakistan makes peace building hard
Regionally, Pakistan has the most troubled relations with Afghanistan. Instead of relying on Afghanistan’s legitimate government for economic connectivity to Central Asia, for the last 20 years, Pakistan has relied on their proxy the Taliban to pursue its goals militarily. The Taliban have benefited the from waging a proxy war because most of their illegal income is sponsored by Pakistani elements and results in their continuous manpower and support growth in the AF-PAK tribal areas.
According to BBC the Taliban’s criminal revenues are larger than that of the Afghan government’s GDP. The Taliban earn between $1.5 to 3 billion annually from illegal narcotic drugs, extortion, illegal mining, and arms, munition, and other military hardware trades in markets in the AF-PAK border area. According to Human Rights Watch, Pakistani officers, notably its intelligence agency, (ISI) are deeply tied with the Taliban in those criminal economies.
The Taliban and Pakistan’s deep economic expenditures in AF-PAK ungoverned areas, have provided job opportunities for illiterate youths. Unfortunately, they also fund thousands of conservative madrasas to feed their enterprise. When Pakistan was created as a nation they had 300-400 madrassas, today it has over 50 thousand registered and unregistered madrassas. One must realize that these madrassas need only provide one man per year to the Taliban movement to sustain the insurgency. This is the kind of manpower the insurgency receives from Pakistan.
These factors make the idea of peace hard for the Taliban and other elements in Pakistan to accept. It is why the Taliban have not been willing, so far, to make any concessions to achieve peace. I have spoken to several Afghan government delegation members that explained that the Taliban have stated privately, and even during public meetings that ultimately, they will prefer a military takeover. Therefore, the Taliban will likely only accept a peace that can bring them as much revenue as they earn today; and they will likely only accept full power of the government and not a power-sharing arrangement.
To overcome these challenges, Pakistan must end its bond with the Taliban. Pakistani politicians must realize that their sinking economy cannot sustain the new refugee crisis that will be flooding into Pakistan if another multi-sided civil war erupts. Pakistan as the major factor behind insecurity in Afghanistan, will be held accountable by the international community if they cause a new civil war, and will not enjoy the economic aid it enjoyed during refugee crisis in 1980s. It is time for Pakistan, as President Ghani stated, to make a choice, support peace and be friends with Afghans forever, or support the Taliban and buy Afghans’ enmity for generations to come.
Meanwhile, the Taliban must seize the opportunity for peace because all parties to this conflict agree that the war in Afghanistan has no military solution. The international community stated publicly that they will not accept a return of any Taliban emirate. Most important of all, if the Taliban continue to choose violence, it will be crushed by ANDSF, it will remain an isolated pariah and terrorist group, and it will lose the dwindling political legitimacy that it retains today.
Foreign military support and aid
Afghanistan has over 300,000 National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). Its special forces are 50,000 strong, with more than 9,000 personnel within Afghan Air Force flying 160 operational aircraft. ANDSF have been able to hold back the Taliban since 2014, when the US handed over operational combat responsibility to them. Now over 98% of their complex operations are conducted independently. They have killed or captured most of IS-K leadership and conducted constant special operation missions against the group so fiercely that thousands of them surrendered without preconditions.
The ANDSF has been able to gut Al-Qaeda’s leadership and its operational capabilities to the extent that the group is currently unable to mount attack against the US and its allies’ interests; but that can change without proper funding and support as many have noted recently.
You must remember that ANDSF achieved those objectives while fighting a deadly war against the Taliban, preventing them from capturing and governing a single city or province, while concentrating on reducing the Taliban’s targeted-killings of civilians; and fighting against various crimes, all simultaneously.
The international community must continue to support the ANDSF for three reasons: first, the international community has a moral obligation, they cannot immediately place the obligations of over 40 nations to fight global terrorists in Afghanistan on just one nation. Overcoming this situation needs a collective long-term commitment. Second, the ANDSF is a young force that requires funding and training. Third, Afghanistan stands on the frontline for the world, fighting more than 20 terrorist groups. These groups, if left unchecked over time, will likely gain the capability to bring more terrorism to European and American shores.
International community’s involvement
Today, except for the Taliban, and Pakistan to some degree, Afghans, and their regional and international partners, support a peace settlement in Afghanistan. There is also a religious consensus regarding the Afghan war. Ulema (religious scholars) from Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, UAE, and Saudi Arabia, all have been calling the Afghan war non-religious; and all have said that the Taliban’s violence is not jihad. There has not been such a diverse political and religious consensus on Afghan peace before. The ground is ready for the UN to send a peace-monitoring forces now and push even harder with a mediator to start a ceasefire.
Peace in Afghanistan is the best option; however, for a sustainable peace, Afghans must come together, Pakistan must stop its support to the Taliban, the Taliban must accept today’s reality, the US and NATO must provide financial support to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorism, and finally, the UN must commit a peace building mission as the NATO and coalition troops leave Afghanistan. These are the pieces of puzzle that if one is missed, the whole nation is at risk.