After more than eighteen years of war and turmoil Pakistan has kick-started the much awaited and anticipated Afghan peace process. It has been named “Lahore Process” in Pakistan. Similar negotiations have been undertaken in a number of other countries. Importantly, the Taliban are participating in these talks.
In the past the Taliban had been excluded from talks though they controlled significant geographical areas of Afghanistan. This was a significant reason why previous efforts had remained unsuccessful.
Demographics, not merely the terrain, are important while visualizing present-day Afghanistan. The Pashtuns, who have historically dominated the country, constitute more than forty percent of the population. Important though this ethnic group is, it is also important to note that the ground realities of the country changed after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union because all ethnic groups fought equally against it. This includes the Hazaras, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks or the Nuristaanis–to name but a few. The Taliban are in a powerful position in many of the Pashtun-dominated areas and thus they must not be ignored either.
To help the peace process the Afghan Peace Conference was held on 22 June 2019, in Murree, a popular hill station in Pakistan, by the Lahore Center of Peace and Research (LCPR) and the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI). The historic conference was attended by the main leaders of the Afghan political arena and their Pakistani counterparts.
Representatives from almost nineteen different political parties were present, including the head of the Afghan government-sponsored high peace council, Mohammad Karim Khalili, as well as the leader of the powerful Jamiat-e-Islami political party, Ustad Atta Mohammad Noor, a current presidential candidate, Haneef Atmar, a former national security adviser, and the famous Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who recently struck a peace deal with Ghani’s government and was taken off the U.S “terrorist” list in 2017.
Discussions in the conference ranged from trade and economy to health, repatriation and Afghan refugees. Participants were fully aware that key international players are playing an active role in the peace process by hosting talks to establish political stability before the next elections in Afghanistan (?) and to effect a complete withdrawal of foreign troops. The Pakistani delegates at the conference affirmed Pakistan’s commitment for ensuring peace in Afghanistan. Addressing the delegates, Shah Mehmood Qureshi Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, emphasized that “while others believe that a military solution is the only solution, we believe there can only be a political one.”
One interesting aspect of the conference was the fact that even though many of the delegates did not agree with the politics of the Taliban they conceded that long-term stability was improbable without their support. However, the Taliban were not represented in the conference.
Things are changing. In the talks in Doha Qatar (2019) the Taliban have been invited to the conference organized by German and Qatari governments.
Young Pakistanis at the conference were curious to know what part the new generation of Pakistanis and Afghans could play to ease the peace process in Afghanistan. In one interview, Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan politician and women’s rights activist, told The Pakistani that young Afghans and Pakistanis share the same problems such as poverty, lack of opportunities, unemployment, poor educational facilities, illiteracy, and women’s rights, etc. Koofi proposed that the new generation of politicians on both sides should get together, dissociate themselves from the wrong decisions of the past–for which both countries have paid a very hefty price–and look to the future in a positive way.
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan stand to gain from the China’s One Belt One Road. The conflict in Afghanistan has been dragging on for decades and it is high time all the players involved supports stability in the area—for their own good!