For Afghans, the “endless war” has actually lasted for over 40 years, starting with the 1978 Communist coup and 1979 Soviet invasion, the subsequent 1990s civil war that culminated in Taliban rule, and then the current U.S.-led war to topple the Taliban. There are many complex issues to address stemming from all this conflict—from a cease-fire to disarmament, from freeing prisoners to addressing past atrocities, from resettling millions of refugees to safeguarding rights for women and minorities. But, perhaps the hardest of all will be creating a vision for a common future, where all parties will need to compromise on sharing power in Afghanistan.
Intra-Afghan negotiations around power-sharing will be fraught for multiple reasons. First, these discussions will require engagement on principles, including deeply held beliefs on the nature of Islamic governance and democracy; on a centralized State; on ethnic and regional divisions; on reading of recent Afghan history and the role of outsiders; and on individual rights. At the same time, the negotiations will be weighted with very practical implications for a greater number of actors getting a limited share of power.
Afghanistan’s form of government will be a foundational issue in power-sharing negotiations. The Taliban have said they want Islamic government, ideally in the form of an emirate. Most take this to mean a government of clerical rule drawing its legitimacy from clerics, if not led by one. The “Governmental” position is that Afghanistan must remain an Islamic Republic, in which the legitimacy of the government is derived from the consent of the governed through universal suffrage, and where basic rights are enshrined and protected in accordance with international laws and norms, as the current Afghan constitution recognizes. The challenge will be to create a shared worldview, and to do so in a way that is rooted in more universal values and principles and not subject to fiat.
While much of the attention in the negotiating process will be on political power-sharing, it is worth thinking about economic power-sharing and women’s rights also, especially as the state controls a substantial amount of employment, investment opportunity, and revenue sources. Doling out jobs is a significant form of patronage available to those in power. The reality in Afghan society is that the Taliban have no human resources other than fighters, while millions of young Afghans have been trained over the past 18 years. Now the integration of these is another problem that must be solved between the Taliban’s group and the Afghan government. And lack of clarity about the intra-Afghan talks and the designated negotiators has further heightened fears about the implications for women’s rights. women’s rights are controversial issue to fully participate in political, professional, and economic life should also be seen through the lens of power-sharing. Government power distribution will both affect individual women directly and the course of policy making. There is great and significant concern that the Taliban have not advanced from their 1996-2001 position, which led to bans on things like work and education.
Whether or not the draft U.S.-Taliban deal was good for most Afghans, the suspension of talks maintains a deadly and worsening situation. The Taliban continue to hold large amounts of territory, political debates are increasingly polarized, and the level of civilian casualties is horrendous. Fundamental uncertainty over the future course of peace negotiations may trigger hedging behavior that could lead to a rapidly worsening situation. The worst-case scenario is the growing threat of ISIS or other groups as a long-term threat to peace and regional security.
In Afghanistan’s case, devolving power to local institutions will only encourage further jihadism, warlordism and extremism designed to wring concessions from the State. The recent political debacle between President Dr. Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah over the presidential election results in Afghanistan has spurred an array of solutions and opinions from practitioners and scholars, all with the aim of preventing political instability in Afghanistan. Many analysts see the centralized model of governance led by Ghani as a potential spoiler for stability and a peace deal with Taliban. Proposals for “power-sharing mechanisms to ensure different groups are represented in the political system” are gaining sizable momentum. However, for a State that is rising from the ashes of civil war to make concessions to the same individuals and groups who were responsible for starting the fire in the first place is nonsensical.
The present debacle between President Dr. Ghani and Abdullah is a recurring instance of jihadism: threatening to “go to the mountain” to force political concessions. In the meantime, the United States is hoping to convince Taliban to “climb down from the mountain.” This is in effect legitimizing jihad as an institution to make claims to power and get concessions from the government. Championing power-sharing, under these circumstances, is nothing more than advocacy for making concession to armed groups who rebel or threaten the government with rebellion. if President Dr. Ashraf Ghani chooses to resist power-sharing it will perpetuate instability. However, if the aim of this resistance is to establish the Afghan government as the only entity that deploys physical force in the country then it might yield security and stability in the long run – providing that he triumphs. Helping the Afghan government become the only entity that has the capabilities to use physical force is the only long-lasting solution. Now that the Afghan Government is trying to reassert its dominance over the Afghan society, it must deal with the competing informal institutions that formed during decades of civil war. Any solution for lasting stability and peace in Afghanistan must include two components: a government that can actually control rogue violence and therefore has a monopoly over the use of force and tangible efforts to address the foundational disputes between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Ethnic warlords and strongmen are the another crucial problem in power-sharing. They are the product of the last four decades of war and one of the worst legacies of the United States’ long war in Afghanistan. These figures remain a strong challenge for the central government. The warlords created private militias and have been involved in heinous crimes and human rights violations ever since. Using government resources and positions, they have been ruling with impunity for decades. warlords remain a barrier Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy and accountability, blocking a new generation from leading the country toward progress and development. They are responsible for killings, beatings, abductions, extortion, land seizures, illegal mining, drug trafficking, and in some cases joining hands with the Taliban where there is mutual interest. In short, these warlords have become a major problem for the country. the rise and endurance of the warlords is a legacy of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. The majority of the current warlords gained prominence in late 2001 while fighting against the Taliban regime. With the U.S.-supplied funds and weapons, coupled with the collapse of the Taliban regime, these warlords were able to control and influence the nation’s security forces and government ministries. They largely used their official positions to cement their own authority in their respective territories and have enriched themselves through illegal money. From ministerial posts to civilian positions, from the security sector to lucrative customs, they have influence everywhere.
These are a serious hurdle facing the Afghan educated generation and technocrats keen to transform Afghanistan from a traditional conservative society into a modern and progressive era.