Peace, once seen as an impossible prospect, has now become part of the national discourse in Afghanistan. Last month, for example, around 3,500 women from all ethnic and linguistic groups in the country issued a joint communique calling for a peace in which Afghan women would not be subjected to the horrors of the Taliban era once again.
The Afghan government is also committed to peace, but just like the women of Afghanistan, it is not ready to settle for any “peace deal”. It wants a peace that would reinforce the values of the republic and the fundamental rights and liberties of the Afghan people, not one that would inevitably lead to the collapse of the state and reversal of the gains of the past 18 years.
Today, as a result of increased US pressure on Pakistan and the Taliban, as well as the Afghan government’s relentless efforts to solve the country’s deep-rooted problems, there is renewed hope for a peaceful, sustainable settlement to Afghanistan’s decades-old conflict.
Undoubtedly, this moment has not come without a cost. Thousands of Afghans (and their international partners) sacrificed their lives and resources to get us here. But even these immense sacrifices have not been enough to bring sustainable peace to a country that has been torn apart by conflict for over four decades. Afghanistan now needs a well-rounded strategy and pragmatic leadership to tackle the last few hurdles on its long and treacherous path to peace.
Thankfully, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani devised a comprehensive and practical four-phase strategy to achieve sustainable peace in the country:
First, the president insists, Pakistan should be convinced to end hostilities towards Afghanistan. The Taliban and their affiliates who engage in violence in Afghanistan have been doing so with the blessing and encouragement of Islamabad. A peace settlement can only be agreed on if and when Pakistan learns to respect the sovereignty of Afghanistan and gives up its ambition to forcefully bring its neighbour under its sphere of influence.
Pakistan most recently made its opposition to a sovereign, united and fully independent Afghanistan apparent when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called the Kabul government a “hurdle to peace talks” and suggested setting up an interim government in the country. An interim government means going back to square one, scrapping the constitution and reversing the gains of the past 18 years. The people of Afghanistan, who fought long and hard for their independence, have no intention of agreeing to any peace process that would deprive the country of its sovereignty. Ghani is aware of this and believes the peace process can only move forward after consensus is reached between the neighbours.
Second, Ghani asserts, Afghanistan should work towards gaining the trust of the international community and demonstrating that it is ready to tackle the challenges of the post-conflict era independently. The president believes sustainable peace can only be achieved by ending Afghanistan’s reliance on foreign aid. Alongside his efforts to achieve economic self-sufficiency, Ghani is also embarking on diplomatic engagements to restore the international community’s trust in the Afghan government. So far, his engagement with the US resulted in the Trump administration’s Afghanistan-focused South Asia strategy and put increased pressure on Pakistan to end its support for the Taliban. Meanwhile, his engagement with Islamic nations resulted in the endorsement of his peace efforts by Saudi Arabia and the Indonesian Ulema Council. Moreover, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation officially described the Afghan war as a conflict “contrary to the principles and formal teachings of Islam”. This statement stripped the war of its religious justifications, bringing Afghanistan one step closer to peace.
Third, the president believes a successful peace process should involve all segments of Afghan society. Past experiences in 1992 and 2001 clearly demonstrate that peace efforts which focus on reconciliation with one group while undermining others result in renewed conflicts. President Ghani is aware of this, and he has already met and engaged in intensive discussions with thousands of citizens including women’s rights activists, civil society representatives and a diverse selection of political leaders and religious scholars. He has given every stratum a stake at peacemaking. To make the process even more inclusive, the government is convening a Consultative Loya Jirga on April 28 where the representatives of all demographics will come together to define the government’s direction on peace. Ghani believes what Afghanistan needs is a people-centred peace, not an elite-led one, and he is working hard to deliver this.
Fourth, Ghani believes the peace process should be owned and led by the people and government of Afghanistan. In 1989, the United Nations brokered a peace deal between the Pakistan-based Afghan mujahideen and the government of Mohammad Najibullah. However, this peace deal failed, leading to renewed conflict and more bloodshed. The failure of the deal was mainly caused by the exclusion of Afghans from the process and the lack of mechanisms for accountability. Today, Ghani insists on an Afghan-led peace process because he does not want to repeat past mistakes or agree to a process that could leave the country in the middle of yet another bloody conflict in the near future.
As the peace process intensifies and some elements both within and outside Afghanistan advocate for an interim government, hundreds of civil society activists gathered in Kabul and issued a communique on the kind of peace they want. One of their main demands was for the Afghan constitution and the core values of the republic to be upheld. The Afghan Constitution assigns the power to declare war and peace to the president.
In short, Ghani’s vision for sustainable peace is based on the elimination of hostile outside influences, long-term economic planning, diplomatic engagements and, most importantly, inclusivity. He is guarding our constitutional values to ensure succession of power continues through elections – one of the main tenets of Afghan constitution. He has a plan that will lead the country not to a “negative peace” in which merely violence is absent, but to a positive one, which would guarantee the presence of justice, equality and development in addition to absence of violence.
Ghani’s efforts played an important role in making peace in Afghanistan a real prospect. Now that we are at the point where direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban could begin any moment, the president’s vision for peace and well-thought-out plans for the post-conflict era is guaranteed to lead Afghanistan to a prosperous future.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.