The many pitfalls of the new US proposal for Afghan peace

Biden administration’s new draft proposal fails to address many fundamental issues stalling the Afghan peace process.

Afgan President Ashraf Ghani, center, meets with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, center left, and their delegations, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, March 21, 2021. Austin arrived in Kabul on his first trip to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief, amid swirling questions about how long American troops will remain in the country. (Presidential Palace via AP)

As violence continues to escalate in Afghanistan, a new draft peace plan proposed by the United States – calling for an interim administration to replace the current government, ceasefire, and a UN-sponsored conference of all regional stakeholders – has evoked strong reactions from both the Afghan government and independent experts.

When the Biden administration came into power in the US, there was some hope that it will revisit the Afghan peace process, which was perceived by many as an attempt to inject the Taliban into the Afghan state system, contrary to the will and wishes of the people of Afghanistan.

The peace process was also much criticised because it sidelined the government of Afghanistan in many matters, and allowed for the US and other international powers to negotiate directly with the Taliban.

The Biden administration’s new proposal does very little to dispel these notions.
Afghanistan has come a long way since the Bonn conference in 2001. The Afghan civil society has flourished significantly in the last 20 years, and showed that it has the potential to craft a better future for the country if it is provided with the right tools and opportunities. Despite endless statements to the contrary, however, the Afghan people have never been given the opportunity to fully take control of their future.

The US and regional powers have long been claiming that only an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” process can be successful in bringing sustainable peace and stability to Afghanistan. However, these claims appear to be little more than lip service – over the years, all external players who have a stake in Afghanistan have tried to impose their own version of peace on the country, driven by their agendas and priorities, without considering the will of the Afghan people.

The new proposal signals that under the Biden administration’s leadership, external actors will continue to try and impose their will on the people of Afghanistan.
Another problem with the new US proposal is its apparent insistence on putting the burden of achieving peace solely on the Afghan government.

Peace talks can succeed only if all involved parties act in good faith, and demonstrate their commitment to peace not only with their words but also their actions on the ground. However, target killings, bomb blasts and violence continued unabated since the beginning of the Afghan peace process. The Taliban did not stop using violence as a tool to maintain and expand its influence over the country.

The Taliban is unwilling to turn the page on violence because it is the group’s defining feature. Despite this, the new US proposal, like others before it, expects the Afghan government to assume responsibility for the stalling of peace talks, and make concessions to an inherently violent group that continues to kill innocent Afghan civilians on a daily basis.

Another fundamental issue with the new US proposal is that it fails to address the complicated relationship Afghanistan’s neighbours, chiefly its eastern neighbour Pakistan, have with the Taliban.

Over the years, Pakistan has carried out several military operations against armed groups, including the Taliban in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The region, which has been merged with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2018, has long been used as a base by the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other local and international armed groups, including al-Qaeda.
While the state of Pakistan claims that it has been successful in its military operations, the region remains volatile as groups allied with the Taliban continue to not only exist and operate in these areas within Pakistan, but also carry out operations like before across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s preference to turn a blind eye to, and at times tacitly support, certain actions of the Taliban in an effort to expand its influence in Afghanistan and the wider region is a very well-established and documented fact, commonly referred to as Pakistan’s “strategic depth policy”. Pakistan’s military has said that it has shifted its policy on Afghanistan, and is no longer following the “strategic depth policy”, but there has not been much indication of this on the ground. The Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network, and other important forums of the Taliban continue to be based in Pakistan. Despite all this, the international community, including the US, continues to give Pakistan a significant role to play in Afghanistan.

This has come at a cost mostly for the Pashtuns who live in Pakistan, especially for the Pashtuns of the former FATA region who have suffered greatly due to the actions of the Taliban and the Pakistani government over the decades. They have witnessed violence, similar to the levels experienced by Afghans, at the hands of the Taliban. Many members of Pakistan’s security forces have also fallen victim to armed groups affiliated with the Taliban that are active in the former FATA region. The state of Pakistan, which is supposed to protect its citizens, however, has looked the other way, accepting the loss of innocent lives in the thousands as necessary collateral damage.

It would be essential for any proposed framework for peace in Afghanistan to address the significant issue of dismantling the vast infrastructure and bases of the Taliban in Pakistan. As long as the Taliban continues to be used by Afghanistan’s neighbours and some of the regional powers to further their own interests, sustainable peace will be difficult to achieve. The will of the people of Afghanistan and the sovereignty of the state will not only need to be taken into account but will need to be respected for any hopes of embarking on a meaningful struggle for peace – for Afghanistan as well as the region.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.