Monday July 22, 2024

Three days of peace

By Saleem Safi
June 28, 2018

This Eidul Fitr proved to be rather a unique one in the gory history of Afghanistan, with many seeing its events as unbelievable, unprecedented and completely surprising.

Although it was expected that the three days of Eid would be peaceful due to the ceasefire between the Taliban and the Afghan government, what came as a shock to most were the Taliban coming out of their caves and on to the roads of Kabul and Jalalabad and jointly celebrating Eid with the Afghan security forces; remember that these are bitter foes. Dozens of viral videos were circulated on social media in which the Taliban could be seen embracing Afghan security forces, giving interviews together and calling each other brothers.

Though the ceasefire came in the form of a verbal announcement and there was no written agreement, it was still honoured. This is a strong feature of Afghan society – the respect and honour for one’s word.

In the recent past, not a day went without 50-100 Afghans being killed in the clashes between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces. But in the three-day ceasefire, there wasn’t a single casualty. There bomb blast in Jalalabad on the third day of Eid was owned by Isis.

Unfortunately, the peace lasted only for those three days and the Taliban rejected Afghan President Ghani’s request to extend the ceasefire. At the end of the ceasefire, the Taliban resumed fighting and killed 30 Afghan soldiers in multiple attacks in the western part of the country. Despite the new cycle of violence, the three-day ceasefire gave some hope.

First, it showed that if the Afghan government and Taliban give up their egos and work honestly towards peace, they can achieve it. They have become enemies on the basis of religion and ethnicity, but if they change their mindset for a moment, they will realise that they are not enemies but brothers who are being used as enemies against each others.

Second, the ceasefire indicates that, despite the influence of external powers, the solution of Afghanistan’s problem is still in the hands of the Afghans. If they were to agree on the restoration of peace, external powers would not become so influential. For instance, the Eid ceasefire was announced not by the US and its allies but by President Ashraf Ghani (and it was accepted and honoured by the US and its allies). Similarly, the Taliban honoured the ceasefire despite internal differences in their ranks.

Third, the way the Afghan people welcomed the ceasefire is a sign of war-weariness among them. They appreciated and supported the Afghan government’s initiative and welcomed the Afghan Taliban. Even Afghan women –who were once so mistreated by the Taliban – welcomed the initiative. The long march of the Afghan youth from Helmand to Kabul and the general attitude of Afghan society shows that people are tired of war and violence and clearly wish for peace and stability. They indeed gave a strong message to their government and to the Taliban that any party that insists on war would face the wrath of the Afghan people.

Fourth, the ceasefire is also a sign of the positive development and progress between Kabul and Islamabad that has happened in the last few months. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Afghanistan Ambassador in Islamabad Omar Zakhilwal played a decisive role. Both governments worked silently and have succeeded to remove many hurdles and, for the first time, agreed on a long-term action plan. They agreed on the formation of working groups at various military and civilian levels. They also agreed on the appointment of liaison officers in both countries. They have agreed in principle that Afghan soil would not be used against Pakistan and Islamabad would extend full support in stopping the Taliban resistance.

Pakistan’s demands include that Afghan security forces or the US and its allies either kill the TTP and Jamaatul Ahrar leadership or arrest them and hand over to Pakistan. Afghanistan’s demands are that Islamabad should bring the Taliban on the negotiations table or expel them from the country.

Though the Afghan government had played an important role in the action against the perpetrators of the Army Public School attack, their biggest act has been the targeting of Mullah Fazlullah. They now expect the same from Pakistan. Though Fazlullah was killed in a drone attack by the US, Kabul claims that it was a joint and coordinated action for which intelligence was provided by the Afghan government. The phone call by Ghani to Gen Bajwa shows that Kabul considers it a favour to Islamabad. Now Kabul will expect Islamabad to take concrete steps too. Washington will also be exerting pressure on Islamabad.

Inside Pakistan, we have developed a baseless theory that the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban are different, and that the TTP is the creation of external forces. But it seems to be a fact that the TTP is the extension of the Afghan Taliban. It is also a fact that Maulvi Naik Muhammad, Baitullah Mehsud, Hakeemullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain, Khalifa alias Narey – mastermind of the APS attack – and Mullah Fazlullah have been killed in drone attacks. The US and Afghan governments complain that, in return, Pakistan has not handed over any Afghan Taliban leader.

Pakistan argues that since it is in a war with the Pakistani Taliban, it cannot afford the animosity of the Afghan Taliban as well. It is indeed not in the interest of Pakistan to make the Afghan Taliban its enemy; however, Islamabad should try its best to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiations table.

Unfortunately, at this decisive, Pakistan is busy in the coming general election. So, while the US and Afghanistan have great expectations from Islamabad, every institution in Pakistan is busy preparing for the election.

Perhaps, it is time Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa directed all the responsible institutions to give full support to the resolution of the Afghanistan problem. This is a golden opportunity which should not be missed; otherwise, bringing things on track again will be very difficult. If both the countries supported each other with honesty, then handling anti-peace forces will not be difficult. Failure can only bring destruction and destabilisation.

The writer works for Geo TV.