The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was spearheading the reconciliation process with the Taliban in Afghanistan, has changed the dynamics of peace in Aghanistan. The Afghan government has evidence that the assassination, carried out by the Quetta Shura Taliban headed by Mullah Omar and based in Pakistan, was supported, encouraged, and perhaps financed by the ISI, the Pakistani Intelligence Service. The Pakistanis vehemently deny this charge. However, it would seem that Pakistani influence in Afghanistan is on a severe decline.
As a response to the assassination and the evidence linking it to the Pakistani intelligence service, the Afghanistan government has turned to India, seeking stronger ties and a reliable peace partner. This is infuriating and probably frightening the Pakistani military and intelligence service. The whole point of the Afghanistan adventure, from their perspective, was to de-stabilize the country, keep it in a low level of insurrection and civil war, and control the insurgents from Pakistan. They could thereby assure themselves that Afghanistan would not pose an existential threat on their western border. However, the continued duplicity that Pakistan has used as its chief strategy now seems to be backfiring. The US is tired of the lies, double-dealing, and outright deceptions carried out by the Pakistani military and intelligence service. This became apparent after Osama bin Laden was discovered living 750 yards from the Pakistani military academy and was assassinated by Seal Team 6. Now the Afghanistan government has turned against Pakistan as a direct result of Pakistan’s involvement in the Rabbani assassination. Obviously, Pakistan is not a willing partner in the creation of a stable, neutral Pakistan and is beening ostracized from the process. What might this mean for a peace process?
First, any legitimate peace process will have to start inside of Afghanistan. No matter what any other country may wish, the Afghan people have to decide that they want peace, not war. This will by necessity be an internal process and therefore cannot be constrained by traditional 18th century diplomatic negotiations favored by the international foreign policy establishment. In other words, at the outset, there will be no high level peace talks between diplomats, envoys, and heads of state.
Instead, if any peace process is to be effective and enduring, it must be organized and implemented from within Afghanistan. The stakeholders must include tribal leaders, village and regional councils (both shuras and jirgas), urban civil society leaders, women’s rights leaders, government ministers, Pashtun, Tajik, Hazzari, and Uzbek ethnic representatives, and rule of law advocate, among others. The process must be carefully designed, fully funded, and organized by a mediation and facilitation team dedicated to a very long, arduous process. Lasting peace in Afghanistan will take 10-15 years to accomplish, not 6 months.
Second, the focus of the international community, especially the US, should be on supporting this internal process and protecting it from outside interference (e.g. from the Pakistanis and their Taliban proxies). Pakistan may be the major spoiler because peace is the last thing it wants to see in Afghanistan, unless it is in total control of the government. Pakistan and its Taliban proxies must be isolated and persuaded to stay out of the internal peace process.
Third, to the extent feasible, the NGOs and diplomats working in Afghanistan should be offering peace-related resources to the stakeholder groups. This could include referrals to mediation and facilitation experts, training in negotiation and mediation, training in effective group decision-making, and the myriad other skills needed in any difficult peace process. Building a systemic capacity for peace processes, negotiations, facilitated conversations, and restorative processes will be as important as the actual peace work itself. The US could divert a small percentage of its military spending in Afghanistan, which would be enough to support a robust peace process for the generation that the process will probably take.
Finally, the international community should stay out of the way except to provide support and expert advice when asked. It should shelter the process, provide security as necessary in support of the process, and keep Pakistan at bay. Only when the Afghanistan people are speaking with one voice under a leadership regime that all trust to speak for their interests should the circle widen to include regional states.
This view of peace is very different from the usual trajectory of international peace efforts. It requires those who have power or think they have power to step back and allow for Afghanistan self-determination. At the same time, those who have power and are truly interested in peace can use their power to protect the process from outside spoilers. It means becoming a servant to peace instead of a master of war. It means putting the interests of the Afghanistan people ahead of national economic or security interests. It’s unlikely that this dedication to peace exists in the international community. However, peace in Afghanistan is unlikely without it.
Douglas E. Noll is a professional mediator, author, and speaker. His latest book is Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolv.... www.elusivepeace.com