The Taliban signed a historic peace deal with the United States on the last day of February. The next step in the process, for restoration of peace in Afghanistan, is that the Taliban and other Afghan parties, including representatives of the current Government, decide upon future political regime and administration in Kabul. The peace process was put back in motion after President Ashraf Ghani agreed to release Taliban prisoners; a precondition in the US-Taliban deal for initiation of intra-Afghan peace dialogue. Similarly, endorsement of the US-Taliban deal by the United Nations (UN) is another constructive step towards giving life to the US-Taliban peace deal.
While the type of regime and approach to governance are of high importance, more so is the person who leads the process until the establishment of the agreed upon regime and administration. This article discusses both: the person who would lead the interim administration and the type of regime and government that would be established subsequent to the transitional administration. In addition, it will explain the need and importance of deployment of UN-sanctioned peace keeping force while Afghanistan goes through the transitional period.
The Taliban, other Afghan groups, and international supporters of Afghanistan, who will facilitate the intra-Afghan peace dialogue, will need to find a person who is capable to be the bridge amongst the contrasting and peculiar worldviews and perspectives that exist within Afghanistan. A kind of a person that is similar in character to Hamid Karzai, who led the post-Taliban administration for fourteen years. In present day Afghanistan, there seems to be no other figure of the stature, influence and the ability to be connected to and have the understanding of this diverse weltanschauung except Hamid Karzai himself.
Hamid Karzai was picked to lead the interim administration of Afghanistan (IAA) during the Bonn Conference (BC) in 2001 because of his educational, Jihadi, and more importantly, family background. Karzai is the son of a prominent Pashtoon tribal leader from Kandahar province. The province that has given birth to the founding fathers of the Durani Empire, which ruled over Afghanistan for over two centuries. Similarly, it was the birth place of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban as well as of majority of other senior Taliban leaders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Beradar, who signed the peace accord with the Americans on February 29th in Doha.
Karzai, fluent in Pashto and Farsi, also speaks foreign languages with high fluency in English, and proved himself, during his time at the office, to be a consensus-seeking leader. He is also considered to be someone who could pragmatically work with international supporters of the new regime in Afghanistan even though his relationship became more complex and more controversial with Barak Obama’s administration. He, despite of harsh criticism from media and civil society groups who opposed the brutality of the Taliban operations against civilian targets, continued to call members of the Taliban with reverence, and usually his brothers, while he was still the president. Some in Afghanistan call the militants ‘Karzai’s brothers’ rather than Taliban for this very reason. At the same time, he kept goal-oriented relationships with the warlords who were effectively in control of public goods in the entire country, while simultaneously, and without making much public noise about it, his government was eroding power bases of the same warlords all over the country.
Similar consideration that helped Hamid Karzai to become head of the interim administration of Afghanistan, in addition to his practical experience during recent 18 years, might get Afghan groups, who are due to meet over the next few days, to decide that Karzai, once again, becomes the leader of the administration that would be born out of the intra-Afghans conference. In 2001, Karzai’s main mission was to create a bridge between the de facto rulers of Afghanistan, mainly non-Pashtoon warlords, and the Pashtoons, who now felt marginalized from national politics. In 2020 his mission will be, if selected as a leader, to create a bridge between the realities of post-Taliban Afghanistan and those with whom he has tribal and ethnic affinities, the Taliban.
The same warlords who were the most powerful forces in 2001, media organizations, human rights advocates, women and minority groups are all fearful of the return of the Taliban. The Taliban regime, after driving the warlords out of Kabul in 1996, had placed numerous restrictions on women for acquiring education and working outside their homes. They had banned watching television and exclusivity was the hallmark of the day in all aspects of public life in Afghanistan. Internationally, only Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan recognised the government of the Taliban.
Since the departure of the Taliban from power, Afghanistan has adopted the most liberal constitution in the entire region; held several rounds of elections; hundreds of private media organizations established throughout the country and millions of refugees repatriated. Similarly, hundreds of educational facilities, many of them private, enrolled millions new students, including in higher education facilities. Amongst them is the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). Over 40% of students in Afghanistan are girls. The government of Afghanistan has representations in all over the world. Whereas most of the resources were spent on warfare, primarily against the Taliban insurgency, Afghanistan did receive substantial developmental aid from international donors in the past two decades. Already existing cities were expanded and new ones were built. More women and children found access to healthcare and Afghanistan managed to rehabilitate its national security forces which had been dissolved by the Mujahideen administration in 1992. They all happened under the watch and leadership of Hamid Karzai.
The Taliban, most of them members of the Mujahideen groups who had fought against the occupation of Afghanistan by the Red Army, by mid-1990s initiated their campaign against their peers, who became warlords and had engaged in brutal and bloody inter-factional fighting with each other over control of public goods, including government offices. By 1996, they managed to capture Kabul and most of the territory of Afghanistan before their regime was ousted by the US-led military campaign in 2001.
An additional pragmatic consideration that led the Mujahideen leaders to accept Karzai as head of the interim administration of Afghanistan in 2001 was their deep appreciation of their own negative public image within and without Afghanistan for their participation in those brutalities and atrocities that took place between 1992 to 1996, in the course of which tens of thousands of civilians had lost their lives and had caused the demolition of any infrastructure that had survived the Soviet Occupation. The Taliban, the most effective none-state group in Afghanistan, are facing a similar situation today as the Mujahideen leaders did in 2001. Taliban leadership should be aware that majority of Afghans will trust none of their members for leading Afghanistan in the second decade of the twenty first century.
While Afghans have made remarkable achievements in the last two decades, they were also exposed to suicide attacks as well as military campaigns against civilian targets for most of which the Taliban have accepted responsibilities. Similarly, the Taliban have caused many families to feel bereaved in those countries which have been major supporters of Afghanistan in the last two decades and are expected, even by the Taliban, to continue their support for many years to come. The kind of support which serves as a lifeline for the state and society in the war-stricken country.
The Taliban should also recognize that a post-conflict administration needs a strong national and international support for it to become successful. Reintegration of tens of thousands of their own militias into the society will be a critical challenge. These militias could turn against their own leaders, as the Taliban had turned against their leaders back in 1990s when the Mujahideen administration failed to prevent collapse of the Afghan state. Karzai has a proven record in forming an inclusive administration, the most confident precursor for a post-conflict administration to sustain itself.
Without a strong support from within Afghan society and provision of substantial aid from the international community, Afghanistan would most probably go the same direction as it did after the withdrawal of Soviet Forces. It would be difficult for the Taliban fighters to accept the reality that other warlords, whom they had defeated in 1990s and consider them to be inferior, morally, than themselves, living in mansions and palaces, thanks to a widespread corruption in the country in the last 18 years, while they are still striving for basic survival. They might not desire to commit corruption at the same level as the Mujahideen and other corrupt officials have done in the last two decades. They would definitely, however, want to have stable jobs and incomes, either serving in the security forces or in the civilian administration. Functioning state apparatus will facilitate the integration of the Taliban into normal life in the society. If not, however, the asymmetry in wealth and financial resources between members of the Taliban and other groups, particularly with those groups that Taliban have hostile background, will be a source of chronic conflicts. The conflicts that will be concentrated around major cities and economic hubs in the country.
In order to have a viable state structure, maintenance of strong national and international cooperation will be extremely vital. Deployment of an international peace keeping force (IPKF) until Afghanistan adopts a new constitution and all non-state groups are disarmed, including the Taliban militias, should be the demand of all participants from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), United States, and NATO members in the intra—Afghan peace dialogue. If deployment of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was deemed necessary in 2002, IPKF must be deployed in 2020 in order to keep peace between potentially hostile groups and interests. The mission of IPKF should be that all signatories to the intra-Afghan peace deal abide by their commitments and that Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) are enabled to performed their duties in providing security for all Afghans, irrespective of their political backgrounds and affiliations, and to remain neutral in political struggles between various groups.
For all practical reasons, the Taliban must be in desperate need of a figure that can appreciate them, represent their needs and wants, but is not one of them and can build a bridge between them and the rest of the society of Afghanistan. Similar appreciation must exist on behalf of other Afghan groups and Afghanistan well-wishing countries that the Taliban should re-join the Afghan society peacefully, but should not present the harsh image of their dark past performance, either to Afghans or to the supporting international community.
While most other prominent parties, including the vibrant civil society groups in Afghanistan, are against the Emirate, the type of regime the Taliban desire to reinstitute in Afghanistan and given the apparent incompatibility of the Taliban with the current presidential system, a different structure of governance might be the need of the hour. The Afghan parties might find their equilibrium on reinstituting a constitutional monarchy, in which a prime minister will have responsibility to form a government and seek approval from a directly elected parliament and the monarch for that government.
Direct parliamentary election for the single-chamber legislature would suffice the desires for a democratically elected government. In addition, restoration of monarchy after over four decades will meet the wants of those groups who favour a more traditional form of government, in which allegiance is pledged to a ruler. Though, most members of the intra-Afghan dialogue might want the future Afghan monarch to have no authority in selecting members of the legislature and the executive branches or over discharging members of the judicial branch from duty. They might decide that the prime minister should be a member of the Parliament, as should be other members of the cabinet. Whereas, the Chief Justice and other members of the Supreme Court need to be selected by the monarch and should seek vote of confidence, as members of the executive branch do, from the parliament. Once appointed, only parliament should have authority for the discharge of members of the Supreme Court from duty, not the monarch. A Loya Jirga will throne the monarch and introduce a new constitution for Afghanistan as per the recommendations issued at the end of the intra-Afghan peace conference.
Afghanistan is placed in another historically fragile status. Changes that are deemed fundamental and necessary post the dialogues need to be implemented incrementally and cautiously. Taliban, a group that was formed to dethrone the Mujahideen, turned warlords, need to be wary of repeating the mistakes the Mujahideen made during the 1990s. They need to, in addition, appreciate the cost of isolating Afghanistan from the rest of the world, a lesson from their experience while they were in control of Kabul, and then being in isolation themselves in the mountains of Afghanistan or seeking refuge from foreign countries.
Governance legitimacy is lubricant to sustain continuity and reform and it can only be achieved if all the factions, groups and identities within Afghanistan are represented in future decisions that affect them, their society, and their country. Consensus-making, incremental implementation of reforms, provision of vision and hope for a better future and sustaining friendly relationships with other nations are keys to success. Hamid Karzai, a man of knowledge in governance, knowledge and understanding of the vastly contrasting tribes, world views and perspectives in Afghanistan, is, in the author’s opinion, the figure to lead Afghanistan through this crucial, laborious and ambitious phase. Similarly a hybrid of modern and traditional type of government might be a call of the moment and to prevent further volatility in politics, the kind of chaos that has been exemplified in recent political scene in Afghanistan. Compromise and consensus among Afghan parties in the peace dialogue will draw a roadmap; it is the continued support from the international community, particularly the deployment of the IPKF, during the time that Afghanistan is administered by a transitional authority, which will guarantee the reintroduction of Afghanistan as a stable and peaceful country to the community of nations.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
The author is an independent researcher of energy geopolitics in Central and South Asia. Recipient of Fulbright Scholarship from the US State Department. Alumnus of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) and the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University. Former Afghanistan Correspondent of Agence France Press (AFP). He is currently based in Ontario, Canada and can be reached @AlumniAzam.