While Afghans are hoping and praying for a lasting peace, one major question remains: What are the compromises we can afford to live with in this peace process? It’s the question that the Afghanistan negotiation team should be prepared to answer prior to sitting across the table with the Taliban. The release of five thousand Taliban prisoners is not all that the Taliban currently demands. Many other demands will be unacceptable to the majority of Afghans.
As an Afghan youth, I was a child when the Taliban held power in Afghanistan back in the 1990s. I can remember how hard it was living under the rule of an extremist regime that sought the solution to everything with violence. Afghanistan seemed like an isolated island on the outskirts of the world. The Taliban ruled the country based on violence and fear. My sister couldn’t go to school and my mother had to stay at home because girls and women weren’t allowed to get an education or work out of the home. We had no freedom of expression, no access to information, no nothing. I can’t even imagine the Taliban walking on the streets of Kabul again–but for the sake of peace and an end of violence, we must be prepared to forgive.
Afghans must understand that in many cases the Afghan government will have to let Taliban prisoners go before they have faced justice. As unfair as it seems, to help start peace talks and end this war, compromises will need to be made by all Afghans. Prisoner exchanges are a critical part of the trust-building process to start larger intra-Afghan talks in the near future.
For many Afghans, it may seem unjust to compromise on justice in any way, but it looks to be the only path to ending decades of violence and war in Afghanistan. Every war has a price – for Afghans there is a cost for peace. A political settlement without compromises from both sides won’t be achievable.
In the meantime, over the past 19 years after the fall of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan has changed enormously. We now have free media and freedom of expression. Girls can go to school, women can work outside everywhere in Afghanistan–except the areas under Taliban control–and youth and women are leaders in the government and private sector.
We obviously can’t compromise on our gains of the past 19 years, and they should remain our red lines. However, what we can compromise is to offer the Taliban a power-sharing deal through a democratic process. We can figure out ways to make the Taliban part of Afghanistan’s political system just as the Afghan government did with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hizb-e-Islami armed group, after his reconciliation in 2016. The Taliban can continue to fight for their views through political channels, taking part in elections, and working with the government.
If the Taliban doesn’t want to work through a democratic process and still wants to suppress Afghan women based on their rigid interpretations of Islam and rule all of Afghanistan, then there is no choice for us but to resist. The new Afghanistan will not go backwards.
Can Afghanistan’s delegation represent the post-Taliban Afghanistan at the table?
In March, Afghanistan announced a 21-member team headed by a former spy chief who will represent the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the peace talks with the Taliban. Almost all of the Afghan politicians and the United States–as Afghanistan’s principle patron–have shown satisfaction with the names on the list. However, the majority of ordinary Afghans have raised their concerns over a few names who either come from families of warlords or aren’t well-qualified to be able to argue with the Taliban.
At this crucial time, regardless of who is at the table, now the focus should be on what words are spoken in the negotiations. All members of the Afghan delegation should create advisory committees to provide insight on the demands and redlines of the ordinary Afghans so that they can better defend the gains and demands of the new Afghanistan. The committees should be inclusive and the members should come from all walks of life so there is room for a variety of voices.
Prior to the US-Taliban talks, when Moscow took the initiative of facilitating the talks between Afghans and the Taliban, a large number of Afghan politicians, most of them warlords and their sons, went to Moscow to initiate the talks, which did not represent the majority of Afghanistan. Despite all their work, it was obvious that the Moscow talks couldn’t succeed because the Afghan delegation wasn’t inclusive.
This time, if we want the talks to get ahead, not only the delegates should be chosen wisely, but also inclusive committees must be created to advise each member of the Afghan delegation on the content of the talks. Afghanistan must not just plan for the successful peace talks, but should also be prepared for the next steps if the peace process fails to start a political settlement with the Taliban.
Sharif Safi is a civil society leader who works with youth to build a tolerant and open society and was the 2017 N-Peace Award Winner for Afghanistan for his community-based peace-building efforts. He’s the co-founder and Managing Director of Mastooraat Organization in Kabul through which he fosters and supports both creation and appreciation of art; and by using the soft power of art, they promote peace, rights and social development.