Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, July 21st, 2019

A Battle for the Ethos of Afghanistan (Part 2)

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A Battle for the Ethos of Afghanistan (Part 2)

In examining both  the historic and current conduct of the Taliban in comparison with the Afghan government it is clear that this ongoing war between the two parties is about the very ethos of the two actors. TheTaliban seek to rule the country under a barbaric, extremist interpretation of Islamic law. On the other hand the Afghan government, which is internationally recognized and democratically elected seeks to consolidate democratic gains in the country. Further, it is imperative to note that this is not referring to the current Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani but is in fact referring to a broad range of societal actors including the political opposition and civil society that have worked to allow Afghanistan to experience such remarkable progress over the past two decades. To be blunt, one side has sought to hold Afghanistan back while another has sought to move it forward.
It is imperative to re-examine the ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and political figures from the Afghan opposition, which is the closet that talks have gotten to including representatives of the Afghan government.  This is not to say that a peace agreement between the two sides is not possible and should not be worked towards. In fact, nearly every Afghan citizen from across the political spectrum longs for peace in the country as does the international community. Yet, it is important to examine changes to the ongoing rounds of negations and dialogue that would be more appropriate for this unique conflict. Modifications must be made to ensure that prior to any agreement on a withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan the improvements that have been seen in the past decade are preserved.
This does not mean changing the format of the negotiations, but in fact changing the composition of the teams negotiating. For instance, in thehandful of direct talks that have occurred between Afghans and the Taliban the delegations on both sides were almost entirely comprised of men over the age of fifty. This flaw could be fatal, as women and youth are the ones who have the most to lose if any peace agreement was made that gave concessions to the Taliban in areas such as women’s rights and democracy. Further, Afghanistan is a country that is overwhelmingly comprised of youth under the age of forty and therefore their buy-in is critical to the success of any peace agreement. Further, the Taliban’s agreement to meet with negotiating teams comprised of women and younger individuals would demonstrate that they would be willing to do-away with their hardline positions and accept the ethos of modern-day Afghanistan.
Further, all potential agreements that have been discussed thus far are based off models that would be extremely flawed in the context of Afghanistan. For instance, some have mentioned the Lebanon model that would see the Taliban being guaranteed seats in government and having the potential to control powerful ministries such as those of interior and defense. Others have mentioned the possibility of a government resembling that in Iran where radical clerics are the real power brokers with an elected government being nothing but a façade. The most disturbing but most commonly mentioned model would be Afghanistan being renamed an Islamic Emirate that would resemble Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or a plethora of other Gulf States. In short, all of these models would risk disposing of the gains made in Afghanistan over the past decade and allow the Taliban to win the war over the ethos of the country.
In the ongoing process for peace in Afghanistan, it is critical to remember that the war that has ravaged the country is in effect a war over the soul of the country. How this can be sufficiently addressed in a peace agreement will ultimately be up to the two parties and the Afghan people. Steps must be taken immediately to make sure to protect women and children, who would arguably be the most strongly impacted victims of widespread Taliban rule in the battle over the country’s ethos. This can be as simple as holding regular input sessions with peace negotiators or as complex as involving them directly in  negotiations with the Taliban. In order for a peace agreement to be reached that is both socially and politically just, there is no other option.

R. Maxwell Bone is Vice President for Political Affairs, Democracy, and Governance at the International Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development (IIPDD). His areas of research include African Studies and Afghan Politics. He is based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter@maxbone55. Abas Alizada is an Afghan youth activist who has long advocated for inclusive governance and reform across Afghanistan. He is based in Mazari Sharif, the capital of Afghanistan’s Balkh province. Follow hi

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