Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

It is time to end Afghanistan’s suffering

After 17 bloody years, a political solution must be sought and lasting peace established

A suspected militant on the Afghan border in Jalalabad, Ghulamullah Habibi / EPA
A suspected militant on the Afghan border in Jalalabad, Ghulamullah Habibi / EPA

More than 17 years and 148,000 lost lives after the first US airstrikes on Afghanistan, there is, finally, some glimmer of hope that the brutal stalemate might be coming to an end.

This week's talks between the US and the Taliban indicate a mutual determination to move towards planned peace negotiations in the spring – and a weary recognition by all sides that the current conflict cannot continue.

This year alone, more than 230 Taliban attacks have claimed the lives of 1,599 people. The most recent was last week, when 16 police officers died in Kandahar.

The reality is that there can be no progress towards any resolution of Afghanistan’s years of suffering without the Taliban’s involvement.

But if the Taliban wish to be part of a political solution, as their willingness to sit down with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad this week in Abu Dhabi suggests, they must demonstrate good faith by ending such outrages.

There are, of course, still many obstacles to be overcome if Afghanistan is to evolve into the “democratic and inclusive society” envisioned in president Ashraf Ghani’s road map for peace.

The Taliban must be persuaded to compromise on a range of issues, not least women’s rights.

Mr Ghani, who has served four years and is seeking re-election in April next year, has done much to bring his country this far.

There is a danger that in the politicking surrounding an election process, the momentum could be lost and the fragile negotiations stalled.

Postponing the election for three months, as has been suggested, could help to keep the talks on track. Whoever emerges the leader of a fractured country must be just as committed to the peace process. That process must take account of other threats to peace.

While the danger from Al Qaeda appears to have diminished, an increase in attacks by an ISIS increasingly at ideological odds with the Taliban is targeted at derailing peace talks. But all these obstacles can, and must, be overcome.

It is significant that Pakistan is acting as broker between the US and the Taliban.

For years, the ability of terrorists to seek sanctuary across the border has undermined efforts to suppress insurgency in Afghanistan.

The pledge by Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan to do everything in his power to further the peace process must be followed by a tough stance on extremism.

Both the US and Afghanistan have paid a heavy price for Operation Enduring Freedom, which has endured for far too long.

If there was ever a need for a peaceful solution, that time is surely now.

Updated: December 18, 2018 08:28 PM