Author: Kenan ROVSHANOGHLU
With the exception of the coronavirus pandemic and the decades of terror in Afghanistan, two important historical events have taken place in this country since the beginning of 2020. On February 29, the US government and Taliban signed a truce n Doha, Qatar. And May 17 became the last day of the dual power in the country, which emerged after the presidential election last year. The first agreement was of great importance to put an end to the 19-year war with the Taliban and terrorism. The second event was no less significant, as it ended the power split within the fragile central government of the country.
Elections amid war
The presidential election in Afghanistan was held on September 28, 2019. However, it was not possible to conduct them in some parts of the country. In some provinces the voter turnout was low at all. The results of the preliminary election originally scheduled for October 19 were only announced on December 22. So, according to the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, the incumbent president Ashraf Ghani won the election with 50.64% of the votes. Chairman of the National Coalition, Abdullah Abdullah, became the second (39.52%), while the head of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan (IPA), Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, became the third candidate for the presidency with only 3.85% of the votes.
However, the announced decision of the election commission triggered protests. Although the final vote in favour of Ashraf Ghani was announced on February 18, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah also announced his victory, claiming that the percentage of his voters was very close to the result of Ghani. Due to this misunderstanding, on March 9 both candidates took the oath in different parts of the capital Kabul.
Attempts by Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Representative of the US State Department for Afghanistan, to reconcile the two leaders were in vain. Later, the US State Department issued a statement sharply criticising the creation of a parallel government in Afghanistan and expressing support for only one government in the country.
At the same time, the number of terrorist attacks in Kabul increased. On March 9, an explosion took place near the presidential palace during the inauguration ceremony of the newly elected president. This was followed by a series of other terrorist attacks in the capital and provinces of the country, with the most terrible one being on May 12 in Kabul, when three disguised as police officers attacked a maternity hospital of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), killing 24 people, including 16 pregnant women. On the same day, more than 30 people were killed during an attack on a funeral procession in Nangarhar.
The political agreement on the division of power between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah was reached only on May 17, five days after the brutal terrorist attack in Kabul. According to the agreement, Ashraf Ghani retained the post of the president, but both leaders can now appoint an equal number of ministers to the cabinet. In addition, ethnic Tajik Abdullah Abdullah was appointed the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan and the head of the political dialogue process with the Taliban. By the way, Abdul-Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek general, was assigned the rank of Marshal. Dostum has previously served as the Minister of Defense and Vice President of Afghanistan in the last cabinet.
Relatively new players
It is hard to say how strictly the parties to the agreement will follow the terms. However, some experts believe that it will be more sustainable than the one signed in 2014. In any case, it is difficult to predict anything at this stage due to the sharp volatility of political situation in the country. Agreement with the Taliban will mean the emergence of a new legitimate political force in Afghanistan. And this, in turn, might violate a number of agreements already reached with other centres of power in the country. Indeed, many of the current political and military leaders have fought against the Taliban for several years, which may complicate relations between them.
Afghanistan is divided into 407 administrative units, of which about 229 are currently controlled by the government, and 59 - by the Taliban. The remaining 119 units are controversial and remain as a battleground of various military groups.
In the summer of 2014, a new force appeared in the country under the name of Islamic State (ISIS). There is no reliable information on the number of members of the organixation based in the province of Nangarhar, which borders with Pakistan and the mountainous regions in the north of Afghanistan. But over the past six years, ISIS members have managed to "show themselves" in battles with the Taliban and Afghan government forces. Although 615 members of the organisation surrendered during a military operation launched by the Afghan government forces in Nangarhar province last November, ISIS is still one of the largest military groups in Afghanistan. The organisation occasionally attacks both the Afghan army and the Taliban.
In addition, according to some reports, Al-Qaeda is still active in 12 provinces of Afghanistan. According to a recent UN report, the Taliban regularly inform al-Qaeda of the progress of the peace talks with the US government, hence both organisations continue to hold joint consultations.
Shortly after taking office in 2017, US President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for his government, giving the start to direct negotiations between the Taliban and Washington. On the last day of February 2020, a ceasefire was reached in Doha. Under the agreement, the US agreed to gradually withdraw the troops from Afghanistan, while the Afghan government and the Taliban will begin peace talks. Prior to this, both parties agreed to release the captives from each side. Thus, the Afghan government will release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, while the Taliban - more than 1,000 government soldiers. According to recent data, Kabul has already released 2,710 Taliban fighters, while the latter - 420 government troops. Now it’s time to start political negotiations between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.
The US wants to put an end to the longest war in Afghanistan, recognising the growing fatigue and inefficiency of the venture every passing year. However, a recently published secret correspondence showed that the Pentagon has serious problems in this country.
Powerful rivals of the US have become more active in Afghanistan. China, Iran and Russia, which previously had varying degrees of influence in the country, have established ties with the Taliban in recent years. Currently, one of the border points of Iran with Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban. Last year, Russia invited Taliban leaders to Moscow. Therefore, in the context of the future of Afghanistan, Washington shows the signs of concerns with the ongoing processes in the country. On the other hand, in comparison with the Taliban, ISIS is a more dangerous organisation. Therefore, Washington does not want to concede Afghanistan to regional rivals and have the same fate as the USSR, which it had previously defeated in Afghanistan.
However, all this does not mean the establishment of a lasting peace, since the agreement may be violated at any time. Both the Afghan leaders and the Taliban have their own plans for the future of Afghanistan. The only question is that these plans are extremely difficult to reconcile. In other words, there is no concrete vision and roadmap of the coordination process. In April, Taliban entered Kabul for the first time after eighteen years. However, in a situation when it is so difficult for the leaders of the same camp to find a common language, it is equally difficult to get together and share the power in the country after thirty years of fighting with each other. Moreover, the presence of forces with different ideological and political views, as well as countries with conflicting interests, makes the perspectives for establishing peace in Afghanistan even more vague.