Displaying items by tag: Afghanistan
The meeting of some 3,000 religious leaders from across Afghanistan in Kabul on July 1-3 ended with an 11-item resolution that received a mixed reception by the Afghan people, and was seen as falling short of addressing public expectations.
Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, who was formally declared as Head of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), attended the meeting that was touted as a Loya Jirga, a grand assembly, but became, at a short notice, a large get-together of clerics.
This meeting was expected to consider and approve a plan of action and policy outline of the IEA that is still unknown even after 11 months of the Taliban takeover of power on August 15, 2021.
It failed to address issues such as allowing girls access to secondary education, with schools closed under the Taliban for almost a year. The 11-point resolution was also silent on a new constitution.
Commentators were critical of the fact that women were not included in the meeting.
It was widely publicised that in the discussion, only two participants from Balkh province raised the issue of the girls' schooling.
Mullah Hibatullah was quoted only to have said that "oppressors and despots should no longer be entrusted with public office", evidently reaffirming the much-criticised Taliban monopoly of political power in Kabul.
Soon after the resolutions were publicised on July 3, a large meeting was held by the women representatives in Kabul in protest against the Taliban preclusion of women in the meeting and silence over the much-expected reopening of the secondary schools for girls.
A separate meeting of teachers was also held in Kabul to protest that the meeting remained aloof to people's demands.
The resolutions spoke on issues of concern to the Kabul government and demanded the international community recognise the IEA and and resume normal relations with it.
The 11-item resolution also declared full support for Mullah Hibatullah's leadership and lauded the ulama for becoming effective political leaders of Afghanistan.
Yet, the Taliban themselves have remained non-responsive to what the world expected of them regarding women's rights to education, and the formation also of an inclusive government.
The meeting was occupied by non-issues, the so-called shop talk about the new era of Taliban leadership, and changes spearheaded by Mullah Hibatullah.
The Taliban are introducing changes that people can hardly be expected to accept. The traditional Loya Jirga historically consisted of people's representatives, but was changed to an ulama-only platform.
The religious leaders are thus arrogating to themselves powers that amount to overruling the constitution and customary convention.
They seem to be creating the Iranian Supreme Leader in the person of Mullah Hibatullah and beginning to arrogate to him extra-constitutional powers without mentioning a constitution or the rule of law.
In one or two interviews that were given immediately after the meeting by the Taliban spokesmen, themselves mullahs, there was much talk that ulama were the true spokesmen of the people and that the people of Afghanistan look up to them and will never go against their wishes.
This is in line with the Taliban actual behaviour in office over the longer stretch of time, the fact that they are keeping to themselves and do not seek popular engagement. This is just a repeat of Taliban dictatorship in a new garb.
There is no talk of elections, a constitution, or good governance, not just in the last few days, but ever since the Taliban rule.
The modern history of Afghanistan is one of persistent struggle for these purposes and now the people's trust is being played with by a group of dogmatic rulers who have little regard for democracy, good governance and the rule of law.
The people of Afghanistan have known that the purpose of a constitution is to mark a transition from the rule of persons to the rule of law and commitment to serve the people and not a group of self-willed dictators by any name.
Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times (online), Wednesday 06 July 2022
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan's ban on secondary education for girls announced on March 23 backtracked their earlier statement on reopening of schools for all students (boys and girls).
The ban was met with a chorus of denunciation and disdain by the Afghan population, seven months after schooling was suspended.
The ban on girls' secondary education is basically dogmatic, emanating from, in my view, a deep-seated prejudice against women.
Who can in their right mind and in the name of Islam and Afghan culture take such a retrogressive step in the face of the ubiquitous emphasis in the Quran and hadith on learning and the Afghan traditional appreciation for knowledge!
The Education Ministry spokesman also mentioned that the ban came from the top (i.e, Mulla Hibatullah Akhundzada), referred to as Commander of the Faithful (Amir al-Mu'minin), indicating perhaps that the ministry had not proposed it.
Civil society, especially women leaders, parents and the girls themselves, are calling this as the "darkest day" and an intellectual blow for Afghanistan.
Parents spoke with emotion that their daughters were eagerly preparing to return to school. Many were seen crying at their school gates and elsewhere wiping their tears.
Former deputy education minister Thurayya Paikan, prominent women rights advocates Mahbuba Siraj and Monesa Mubariz, Afghanistan's former ambassador to Norway Shukria Barakzai, Strategic Studies Centre of Afghanistan director Atif Mokhtar, and leader of the Party for Intellectual Advancement of Afghanistan Saleem Paygir, among others, spoke forcefully in denunciation of the ban, coming also on the heels of similar restrictions on women's right to work.
The Taliban have no right to make such a momentous decision, especially when they lack popular mandate and came to power through coercive methods.
Seven months after their takeover, no country has yet to officially recognise the Taliban government.
Spokesmen and women leaders were askanced as to what kind of a society does the Taliban want. What do they try to make of Afghanistan — and what is their endgame? They have not explained their plans and programmes.
Former president Hamid Karzai had suggested earlier that the Islamic emirate should convene the traditional Loya Jirga (grand national assembly) and seek approval for their actions.
All are asking for immediate reversal of the ban, adding that the emirate is responsible in respecting and upholding people's rights, not to violate them.
Siraj and Paikan noted that people had remained patient and appreciative of the peace they enjoyed after some 40 years of turmoil, but that may be running out.
Civil protests on the streets of Kabul and provinces, especially by schoolgirls, has already started and likely to grow wider.
Paikan further noted that the Islamic emirate was breaking the promise made earlier that all schools will be opened after months of closure; the Taliban should know that breaking a promise is unacceptable in Islam.
Barakzai added that the Taliban were moving Afghanistan further away from progress and civilisation, wasting the hard-earned gains of the past decades.
The Afghan people and the international community seem to be seeing more of the fanatic side of the Taliban that has not changed since the 1990s when they ruled Afghanistan for five years (1996‒-2001).
The UN Security Council issued a resolution asking the emirate for immediate removal of the ban and opening of all schools.
The United States, European Union and virtually all leading countries of Europe have denounced the decision as a violation of basic rights and unacceptable. The US scheduled meeting in Doha on March 26 with a view to normalise relations was also cancelled.
I had quoted one of the Taliban spokesmen, Suhail Shaheen, who said the Taliban had changed from 20 years ago as they realised some of the mistakes they made and changed their views, especially with regard to female education that they now approve of.
It seems that this is not so. The fanatic side of Taliban has not changed.
On a more symbolic note perhaps, the Afghan people generally felt it was unnecessary and verged on self-styled dogmatism when months earlier, the Taliban replaced the traditional tri-coloured national flag of Afghanistan with their own white flag.
Both exhibited the same testimonial of the faith (the shahada) and there was no need to change the flag.
Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Friday 01 April 2022
EVENTS are still unfolding but expectations are already dampened by the Taliban's performance in government after four months in power. Up to late December last year, only Malaysia has officially recognised it.
This is perhaps not highly significant given the fact that Malaysia has no diplomatic mission in Kabul and deals with Afghanistan through its embassy in Qatar.
Pakistan is generally seen to have actively supported the Taliban takeover of power in August last year but it has yet to officially recognise it.
The United States has not recognised the Taliban and according to its Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, it is not likely to do so unless the Taliban changes its stance on inclusivity and human rights, especially of women's rights to work and education.
Due to legitimacy issues, Washington is refusing to release US$10 billion of Afghanistan's reserves in the US despite public outcry in Afghanistan that those funds are sorely needed.
Other countries tend to follow the US and have refused recognition for similar reasons, saying that the Taliban should act on its promises first.
The Taliban considers the prevailing non-recognition as less than acceptable and unfair.
The Taliban maintains — and confirmed in a Jan 4 interview with First Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Baradar — that it fulfils all the requirements of recognition, take credit that security prevails under it, and that its policies are people-friendly and responsive to actual developments.
Earlier comments by some of the Taliban spokesmen claimed that the Taliban is not the same group as the one of 20 years ago (when it was in power from 1996 to 2001) and has changed in many ways.
Yet, it has not budged on its negative stance on women's rights despite the frequent comments by international commentators that the Taliban should change this.
Public expectations that the Taliban will be a people's government are also dampened due to a series of restrictions it is imposing on public activities. Media representatives are complaining of many restrictions.
An earlier announcement by the Taliban Ministry for the Promotion of Good and Prevention of Evil said the media should expose people to that which is good and beneficial and avoid coverage of futile activities.
There is talk that the Taliban is clamping down on music. People are expected to wear beards and the traditional shalwar-kameez outfit. Internally displaced and unemployed people are growing in numbers and further swelling the existing problems of poverty and deprivation.
The fears of drastic food shortages and increasing economic problems add to the gloomy outlook. About 90 per cent of Afghans currently live below the poverty line.
Banks were closed for weeks before it reopened but are still far from returning to their normal pace of activities. Government employees and workers are complaining of not receiving their salaries for months amid widespread unemployment.
There are fears of an impending humanitarian disaster due to worsening food shortages and rising prices. Recent announcements that the import trade volumes are declining is indication of an economic slowdown.
This is despite an earlier announcement by Pakistan that it is allowing India's export of food and medicine to Afghanistan though its territory.
Time is not on the Taliban's side. Problems are piling up and the people's view of it is also turning negative.
It bought time earlier by saying publicly that it needed to consult internally among themselves and formulate new policies, that it was new in office and had inherited a corrupt regime and so forth.
Instead, the Taliban has gradually come up with more restrictions and issued few reassuring statements to respond to public concerns.
What policies the leadership was consulting about and formulating should perhaps be discussed in the open and deliberated for better results.
People expect more effective measures to curb food supply shortages, declining market situations and financial activities.
The value of the Afghan currency, Afghani, versus the US dollar is in a free fall. It was 80 Afghani some months ago but it is now 104. Trading volumes in the Kabul Market and other major cities have also declined.
All this give fodder to the rumour that the Taliban is likely to collapse due to lack of funds, ineffective governance and lack of international support.
Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Sunday 09 January 2022
THIS is the second time the Taliban formed a government in Afghanistan. They were in office for five years (1996-2001) at the end of the Mujahidin political turmoil and came to power peacefully like they did after Ashraf Ghani fled to Dubai on Aug 15.
The old Taliban government was credited for two things: establishing security and eradicating opium cultivation and trade. They were also discredited for their prejudice against women and obsession with beards and clothes.
As an insurgent group, they had fought for 20 years to oust foreign occupiers and implement syariah law. They have thrown out the Americans and formed an Islamic emirate to implement syariah law.
Questions, however, remain about their understanding of syariah, whether doctrinaire or more pragmatist.
Syariah provides space for social customs and management styles through siyasah shar'iyyah (syariah-oriented policy), which has enabled rulers to issue syariah-compliant decrees, nizam, firman, etc.
Later, they announced that the Taliban government will be participatory. The caretaker government, however, only consisted of themselves.
The Taliban's somewhat sudden takeover had alarmed the international community.
No country has officially recognised the Taliban government even after two months, despite all the friendly noises they made about being keen to forge friendly relations with all countries.
Pakistan, the Taliban's main sponsor, has yet to give it official recognition. The Americans left Afghanistan abruptly, perhaps to cause turmoil in Kabul, which it did, thus ending their occupation.
All this is reflective of a bad ending. In the 20 years of American occupation, the security situation and poverty in Afghanistan went from bad to worse. The streets of Kabul were no longer safe and beggars were seen everywhere.
Drug addiction, which was not an issue in the country before, skyrocketed in that time. So did official corruption. This was also the assessment of Afghan discussants at a panel organised by the Kabul Noor TV network recently.
Ghani once jokingly said at least half of the national budget was being devoured by corrupt officials in the Finance Ministry. He himself allegedly stole an incredible US$169 million when he disgracefully fled Kabul with plane-loads of US dollars.
Someone with a military rank was recently alleged by the Taliban to have helped Ghani with his quick looting and robbery of Afghan banks. A month later, when Ghani announced in Dubai that he wanted to return, the Taliban set one condition: return all the stolen money.
With the Taliban back in power, there was an exodus of affluent people to foreign countries, mainly Pakistan and Europe. The Taliban are short of funds, yet the United States government refuses to return close to US$10 billion of Afghan assets.
The Kabul financial market declined as a result and banks stayed closed in the first week of the takeover. Though some opened later, they were still inactive.
The Americans seem to have given up on Afghanistan, just as the Taliban turned east over the support shown by the non-participation of Americans at the Moscow conference and the fundraising this month by 10 countries, including Afghanistan's neighbours.
This was followed by the European Union announcing €1 billion in aid to avert a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.
The Taliban do have grassroots support, mainly due to their Islamic credentials and relatively cleaner record on official corruption. Yet, their prejudice against women and the Shia and poor human rights record erode their popularity.
The Panjshir opposition under popular leader Ahmad Massoud has apparently subsided, but a new resistance front made up of civil society notables, including Marshall Dostam, Ata Mohammad Nur, Hossein Qanuni, Mohammad Muhaqqiq and Ishaq Gailani, seems to be brewing.
Their main purpose is political opposition, especially against the Taliban's lack of engagement with political and civil society groups.
Afghanistan's neighbours have shown willingness to join fund-raising efforts to avert a much-feared economic collapse and to prevent more refugees from fleeing to their countries.
The international community's hitherto hostility towards the Taliban has been deemed by Taliban spokesmen to be groundless as they only wish to build good relations with others and lay the foundations for good governance.
They have also appealed to the people for support. Yet, it seems that unless the Taliban begin to act on what they say, promises alone are not likely to have any impact.
Their future, it would seem, is largely in their own hands — at least for the time being.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Thursday 28 October 2021
A prominent Malaysia-based Afghan Muslim scholar has advised Putrajaya to practise cautious optimism amid mixed signals from the recent return of the Taliban in Kabul, some 20 years after the ulta-purist religious movement was ousted in the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.
“Malaysia will be interested in trade relations but political developments will take time. However, an early show of interest in recognition will make a big favourable impact on the Taliban,” Hashim Kamali, who heads the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Kuala Lumpur, told MalaysiaNow.
He was asked for a response on the return of what many have called the Taliban 2.0, as speeches from the group’s top leaders suggest that they are shedding some of the controversial interpretations of Islam that characterised their rule in the late 1990s.
At the peak of their power, the Taliban imposed tough restrictions on women including a ban on their formal education.
In 2001, months before they were ousted by US forces who accused them of protecting Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban regime earned international condemnation for destroying the historic Buddhas of Bamiyan, the sixth-century statues in central Afghanistan, on the assertion that retaining the monuments was a form of idol worship and un-Islamic.
The Taliban were the product of the post-Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, made up of students (talib) educated in traditional religious schools and whose pioneers were involved in the 10-year armed struggle against Soviet forces.
Despite statements indicating that the current group of Taliban leaders could be “gentler” and more moderate, there is little expectation that they have changed in their interpretation of the shariah.
Kamali, who was part of the Constitution Review Commission of Afghanistan in 2003 and a consultant appointed by the United Nations on constitutional reforms in the country, said while the world could expect differences in terms of approach and administration, the group’s basic ideology, especially on Islam and shariah, remained the same.
He said statements from top leaders only indicated that the group was out to seek international legitimacy of its rule.
“There are signs that the Taliban will put in place a civilian administration and not the mullas, so to speak,” he added, pointing to an assurance that all government functionaries would be retained as well as the Taliban’s offer of a general amnesty.
Kamali said while some semblance of normalcy and stability would be welcomed by Afghans, many were apprehensive at the memory of the Taliban’s past atrocities, especially their “killing sprees in recent months and years”, he added.
Herizal Hazri, who heads think tank Institute of Strategic and International Studies, agreed, saying the Taliban would need international recognition to remain in power.
“They must also realise that they need to join the world’s economy if they want to develop the country and maintain the image that they can uplift the living standard of Afghans.”
Kamali meanwhile does not think that the rise of the Taliban will have any effect on Malaysia’s Islamic movements, despite some voices seen as sympathetic towards the group.
“The Taliban do not seem to have had close ties with the Islamists groups of Malaysia. Malaysia is fairly secure with a strong government that is alert to such developments,” said Kamali, an expert on Islamic jurisprudence who has written close to 50 books.
For Herizal, the Covid-19 pandemic would minimise problems posed by extremist groups, although he said the possibility of radical ideologies gaining a foothold in the country should not be ruled out.
He said Malaysia should not rush into recognising the Taliban administration until all negotiations involving the group are over.
Published in: Malaysia Now, Monday 23 August 2021
Peace is the absence of war, while war is the absence of peace! A negotiated peace in Afghanistan presents a number of challenges. The duration of the war over several decades has created a number of situations, that requires an in-depth examination in light of the peace negotiations that took place between the United States and the Taliban leading to the signing of an agreement without inputs from the Afghan government in spite of their being a strategic partner of the United States.
The war has been a very costly undertaking both in financial and human terms.
On the human side, there has been a large number of civilian casualties and a flow of both internal refugees and those that have fled to neighbouring countries, Iran, and Pakistan in particular. Will the conditions of peace allow their return and what employment possibilities will they find? In particular will the professionals and corporate managers of the diaspora return?
On the financial side, the income of the Government of Afghanistan is too meagre to finance the rebuilding of the country. Will the United States and other major donors such as the World Bank contribute in a significant way to assist in this momentous effort?
Afghanistan’s geographic position has attracted major powers in the past. How will the country still be viewed as a masterpiece in the Great Game, and will it continue to be subject to constant instability? Corruption may well prove to be one of the most important barriers to development. What policies can be put in place to reduce, or eliminate, corruption? What process will be put in place to disarm both the Taliban and the other armed groups to prevent a civil war?
Why do powerful countries always easily achieve their goals in Afghanistan? The answer is simple, because some leaders are ready to do anything to gain power by asking for the support of these countries. In order to be able to bring political stability to Afghanistan, it is essential and indispensable that the Afghan leaders come to an understanding among themselves in order to have internal stability. As soon as they manage to put this in place, they will have moral authority over powerful countries with a specific, clear, and lasting purpose for Afghanistan. Presently its political leaders are ready to negotiate in an aggressive, competitive, egocentric, and defensive manner to have the power in order to remain in their current positions without worrying about the interests of the country or the people.
Often, we hear that Afghanistan is a strategically positioned country. Of course, Afghanistan is well placed, but our analysis is different: we believe that something else is more important than that situation. Afghanistan is a weaker country in the region with leaders who are only interested in political power, with a lack of global vision for the development of the nation: this is the reason why every powerful country achieves its goals very easily across Afghanistan, according to its wishes. At any time, they may abandon Afghanistan. At the same time, Afghanistan faces major economic and development challenges. Although the country is rich in natural resources, gas, minerals, and oil (estimated at over a trillion dollars), insecurity, war, lack of infrastructure, weak leaders, have limited the possibilities of finding and extracting these resources and Afghanistan is still among the poorest countries in the world.
Each country has its advantages and disadvantages, but Afghanistan has two major drawbacks that need to be addressed:
1) Very weak leaders or leaders by accident, who think only of their personal interests and who settle in power for life.
2) As mentioned above, Afghanistan is the weakest country in the region.
Every leader, when he comes to power, forgets his real job, which is to create enduring systems and values for today, tomorrow and the day after, and at least reduce existing problems and use their power to serve the people and the country, instead of monopolizing this power for personal interests.
On the contrary, unfortunately, when a leader comes to power, he increases the problem because he thinks traditionally, and above all he puts his relatives in the most important positions, without looking at their qualifications, because competence is less important than relational confidence.
Although there are very qualified people, but since they do not belong to the ethnicity of the political leaders, and share their point of view, thinking more for the country than their private interests, such kind of people have very little place in the mind of these leaders.
Today, politics in Afghanistan is becoming like a business, and everyone is doing politics ... However, the real job is still abandoned, because the vast majority of the People no longer trust the Politicians, and even the real ones, those Politicians who want to change something for their country.
Before having to manage peace, they must understand why we are at war. The war in Afghanistan has five dimensions:
- A leadership crisis, meaning that the Afghan leaders do not agree with each other and look at power sharing.
- Certain countries of the region, and more particularly Pakistan, are very involved in Afghanistan, which they destabilise.
- Major powers, too, have their own agendas on the region.
- Certain countries support terrorism and extremist groups.
- The negotiation process must be led not by politicians, but by neutral Afghan experts.
Therefore, we make the following recommendations:
- Encourage the leaders to have a government in which no single ethnic group monopolizes power. There should be one president and four vice-presidents. Each two years a rotation of the president would be put in place. The entire mandate would be limited to ten years. This would allow power sharing that would prevent having one ethnic group monopolising power through a rotation system of two years as President.
This proposal would definitely solve the power problem while also allowing for government savings of time and money.
- The United States should intervene in Pakistan to force a peace process between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan has been a major destabiliser in the region by harbouring terrorists and using them as their second army as indicated by several international sources. Should this problem not be solved, it would become, sooner or later, a global threat for democracy and humanity. It would not be a good inheritance for the future world leaders.
President Joe Biden mentioned that the United States would again lead the world. We strongly believe that the above issue should be a priority, failing what, it may be too late to bring peace to the region and worldwide. The United States should avoid countries that back terrorism and, particularly, those actions that kill children and humanitarian workers.
- As a major power, the presence of the United States in Afghanistan could develop a strong relationship, instead of a partnership, just as the United States has done in other countries, providing its presence in the area is of interest. This would be a break from the present situation in which the Afghan population lacks a clear understanding of its position. Should the United States develop a mutually beneficial relationship, the Afghan population would strongly support it. A complete departure before peace puts in danger democracy, women, and children not only in Afghanistan but also worldwide.
- The United States, as a powerful country, should sanction all countries, or groups and persons, that support terrorism. As an example, economic sanctions banning the purchase of military material should be implemented. Doing so in Pakistan would be a good starting point.
- The negotiation process cannot be done by people that are thirsty for power and have no vested interest in peace as they hold power. We would suggest that the negotiation process be led by neutral experts with politicians and the civil society backing-up them.
We are certain, if the United States takes into consideration the five points mentioned above, the peace process will be successful and lead to stability in the area. If there is no peace in Afghanistan, there will be a major threat in the area in the region and in the world. Afghanistan is the first line of defence against terrorism not only for themselves, but also for the entire world.
About the Author
Prof. Dr. Djawed Sangdel, professor of Leadership and Entrepreneurship
President of Swiss UMEF UNIVERSITY – GENEVE
July 19, 2021
AFGHAN President Ashraf Ghani arrived on June 25 in Washington on an official visit, leading a large delegation of officials, including Dr Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation; Amrullah Saleh, the first deputy president; Hamdullah Mohib, the national security adviser; and, a planeful of other officials.
He and Abdullah's meeting with President Joe Biden did not lead to any new decision and the United States president merely covered the familiar ground that America will continue to assist Afghanistan, but that the withdrawal plan announced last April remains on schedule.
The withdrawal is due to complete by Sept 11, 2021, a symbolic date, perhaps to suggest that the US military had accomplished its purpose of avenging the Sept 11, 2001, Twin Tower attacks.
The visit comes in the midst of worsening security situation in Afghanistan and increased Taliban insurgency, when much of the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces have already left. The withdrawal led the Taliban to believe that they have won the war and, therefore, in no need of further negotiation.
This was one of the Taliban's two original demands: withdrawal of the foreign forces, and implementation of syariah law. Their triumphant posture may also explain why they halted the Doha peace talks with the Afghan government and the scheduled peace conference in Istanbul as well, which was due to be held last April.
Ghani's leadership also suffers from a credibility deficit as he has not played his role well in the peace process in the past and has missed opportunities for bringing peace. The Afghan people and the Kabul government do not seem to be on the same page.
While the people want the foreign forces out, Ghani's regime sees its continuity in office linked to the foreign military presence. The people are eager for peace to end the four decades of war, but Ghani seems to want that on his own terms. Delays and disruptions in the Doha peace talks also raises questions that there are elements in Kabul that do not want peace.
When the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Kabul last April and presented a negotiated peace plan, Ghani declined to endorse it as it involved the formation of a transitional government to facilitate the peace process. Ghani announced, instead, that he can only be replaced through a general election.
Clearly another missed opportunity for peace on questionable grounds. People jokingly said Ghani is more interested in completing his second term in office than in bringing peace. He was apparently less than happy when the US (under Trump) negotiated with the Taliban first (and signed an agreement with them — in February 2020).
The Kabul government also suffers from internal disunity and weaknesses at a time when about 60 per cent of the country is under Taliban control. Even though this has so far not included provincial capitals nor a whole province and confined to the outlying areas and districts, that scenario is fast approaching. According to US intelligence reports, Ghani's government will most likely fall in less than six months of the foreign troop withdrawal.
Afghan analysts were furthermore critical of Ghani's June 26 speech at the US Congress. Afghanistan under Ghani has been witness to increased poverty and unemployment, widespread drug addiction, raging Taliban violence and worsening security situation. Kabul is no longer safe.
People are killed in broad daylight by gangsters and criminals and there is widespread suspicion that police corruption is a part of it. Ghani makes out that the country is doing well under him thanks to American help. Instead of engaging the Congress on ways to improve matters, he filled his speech with formalities and half-truths.
Ghani's main purpose was seeing if Washington would delay the withdrawal of its remaining forces. Here again, the Afghan people welcome the voluntary end to military occupation. Yet, since there is no political formula for peace, the troop withdrawal may leave a vacuum and increase the risk of a Taliban takeover.
The Afghan people are also apprehensive of Taliban rule, and suspect that they will roll back many gains of the past 20 years on democracy and people's rights. The Taliban renewed assertion that they are supportive of female education and people's rights is also seen less than credible.
Afghan political analysts thought that Ghani's expensive visit (the plane rental alone cost US$1,200,000 of public funds) to Washington was inopportune since the US had already announced their plan on force withdrawal and is not likely to change, and that Washington has probably also lost confidence in Ghani's leadership, indicated perhaps in a somewhat muted welcome ceremony on arrival and a mere half-hour time slot allocated for a meeting with Biden.
This turns out to be the case now that the visit is almost over and has led to no new decisions to what was already known before.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 29 June 2021
The Inter-Afghan Negotiations (IAN) that started last September between the Taliban and the Afghan government turns out to be a protracted waiting game.
The talks began due to great urgency and expectations of the Afghan people, who are eager to see the end of some four decade-long of devastating war with great hopes that the IAN will bring peace.
The Taliban had a two-point agenda: American and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces to leave Afghanistan, and implementation of syariah in the self-proclaimed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
The Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani asserts bringing peace to the war-torn country, but that he is the country's elected leader until his term ends in 2024. The Jamiyat Party of Afghanistan suggests that a transitional government takes over to facilitate peace.
Ghani's continuity almost certainly depends on the continued stay of American troops, currently at 5,000 (reduced from 100,000 deployed under the Obama administration), which is enough to deter a Taliban offensive.
Being under United States occupation, the realities are such that no significant decision is made in Kabul without American approval. The Afghan army is currently on the American payroll amounting to over US$5 billion per year, a sum that Kabul cannot pay from its own meagre budget.
The Doha talks have hitherto made no progress simply because all sides were awaiting the US presidential election results.
President Donald Trump has declared that the US troops will leave Afghanistan in near terms without specifying a date, but March has been mentioned as the target date. Now that he has lost the election, the waiting continues until the new president takes office. The Taliban are also waiting for renewed American assurance on the February 2020 agreement they signed with the Trump administration.
The Taliban have refused to sign a ceasefire agreement to pave the way for a peace pact, and have chosen the path of violence.
They have stepped up guerilla attacks against Afghan forces and caused heavy civilian casualties.
Prior to the February agreement, Taliban attacks on Afghan forces also invoked a US military response, which kept the violence within limits, but casualty rates had also become heavier since then. For over two months, the Doha talks between 21-member negotiating teams on each side were engaged in trivialities: What expressions they should be using at the talks and what should or should not be placed on the agenda.
The Taliban want their movement to be referred to as a legitimate jihad, and they refuse to refer to the Afghan government as an Islamic republic until Kabul accedes to their demand.
To call the Taliban's bloody raids on Afghan security forces a jihad would be suicidal for Kabul and generally unacceptable.
Yet the Taliban do have grassroots support, which may however be dwindling due to their belated killing sprees that have become particularly brutal under Mullah Hibatullah's leadership.
The Trump administration has not taken a clear stance on these raids although the US envoy for peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, had said that this degree of violence from the Taliban was not acceptable.
Protracted waiting with no clear end in sight may also raise a more sinister question: Do they (Taliban and the Afghan government) want peace?
If the US does not want peace, which is the understanding most Afghans seem to have, then those who are attached to them may also share the same attitude.
Moreover, the Taliban militarism and its suspected al-Qaeda links suggest that they most likely aim for a military takeover of Kabul and peace is not likely to deliver that prize.
The Kabul government has also missed opportunities for peace in recent months and a continuation of status quo is an option as it would likely prolong the American military presence.
Ghani's internal bickering with Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation chairman Dr Abdullah Abdullah has also led to indecision. Rumour has it that Dr Abdullah prioritises peace, whereas Ghani wants peace on his own terms.
The latter is also less than happy with the way the Taliban became the first party to sign an agreement with the Americans.
The Doha talks have yet to enter its proper agenda. It is uncertain but likely that the Taliban will take issue with the current constitution of Afghanistan with reference particularly to equality clauses for women and implementation of syariah. They also suggest that an ulama council be formed to take charge of implementing syariah.
Such demands will be met with resistance as prominent women leaders and civil society are critical of the Taliban's view on women. So, protracted negotiations are likely to continue, and may be more of the same with the waiting game. What remains to be said is that they all owe it to their conscience, country and people to drop petty delaying tactics and work sincerely for a peaceful Afghanistan.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Wednesday 09 December 2020