Ouster of Nazibullah Government
Afghanistan has been a problem state for last many decades. The period beginning 28 April 1992, the day that a new interim Afghan government was supposed to replace the Republic of Afghanistan of President Mohammad Najibullah could be traced as the beginning of the present problem. After Nazibullah government was ousted, an interim government could not be established; instead a civil war ensued to usurp the seat of power. There were various factions warring among them to claim power. A civil war ensued On 25 April 1992 among three groups of mujahideen armies, later divided in five or six groups as Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which was supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) refused to form a coalition government with other mujahideen groups and tried to conquer Kabul for themselves. The civil war led to massive escape of Afghani people from Kabul for fear of losing their lives. Many of them, however, lost their lives in the civil war.
Taliban’s conquest of Kabul
The Taliban which emerged in 1994, took advantage of the power vacuum that was left following the aftermath of the Afghan Civil War. The group was mainly composed of religious students in Pakistani madrassas (who had fought in the Soviet–Afghan War) under the leadership of Mohammed Omar. Taliban forces conquered Kabul and they established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan on 27 September 1996. This was an altogether different regime from what the former Nazibullah government was. Many new pro Islamic policies were adopted, mainly fundamentalist in nature.
Offering Sanctuary to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan
The problem was further made complex by another development. Al-Qaeda, an international terrorist network, were granted sanctuary in Afghanistan on the condition that it did not antagonize the United States, but Osama bin Laden reneged on the agreement in 1998 when he orchestrated bombings of US embassies in East Africa. The Taliban supported by the US found Al- Qaeda’s acts as hurting their equations with the US and tensions emerged between the two groups. The Taliban was fundamentally parochial while Al-Qaeda had its sights set on global jihad.
Souring relation of Taliban with the US
The relation between the Taliban and the US soured after the bombing of the WTC. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. under President George W. Bush made a request to the Taliban leadership to hand over Osama bin Laden, who was the prime suspect in the attacks. The Taliban refused to hand bin Laden over, demanding evidence of his participation in the attacks.
Thereafter came the invasion of Afghanistan after Taliban’s denial to oblige the US. Consequently, the U.S., together with its NATO allies, launched the United States invasion of Afghanistan, code-named Operation Enduring Freedom, on October 7, 2001.
By December 17 that year, the U.S. and its allies had driven the Taliban from power and begun building military bases near major cities across the country. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was later created by the United Nations Security Council to train Afghan National Security Forces to oversee military operations in the country so as to prevent any resurgence of the Taliban group.
Afghanistan never became normal since then. The Taliban has launched numerous attacks on the Afghan forces, government facilities, and any organization that they believe are in alliance with the US. There is a sort of stalemate. The US has been on the ground and directly involved in the war for 18 years. Although al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan are now considered to be “diminished”, the war with the Taliban insurgents continues.
Reconstruction and normalcy through electoral process after Taliban’s ouster
The United Nations Security Council authorized the creation of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to help provide basic security for the population of Afghanistan. Members of the United States Armed Forces and other NATO countries began sending large number of troops to Afghanistan. They began to train the Afghan Armed Forces and Afghan National Police as well as fight insurgents and take part in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The structure of the Transitional Authority was announced on June 10, 2002, when an emergency loya jirga (grand assembly) convened establishing the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan (TISA), which had 18 months to hold a constitutional loya jirga to adopt a constitution and 24 months to hold nationwide elections. The loya jirga was replaced by the National Assembly.
Under the Bonn Agreement the Afghan Constitution Commission was established to consult with the public and formulate a draft constitution. The meeting of a constitutional loya jirga was held in December 2003, when a new constitution was adopted creating a presidential form of government with a bicameral legislature: the House of Elders (Meshrano Jirga) and the House of the People (Wolesi Jirga).
Hamid Karzai served as the Chairman of the Interim Administration from December 2001 to June 2002. He then served as the Interim President between June 2002 to October 2004. He officially became the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan after winning the 2004 presidential election. After winning the 2004 election and removing many of the former Northern Alliance warlords from his cabinet, it was thought that Karzai would pursue a more aggressively reformist path in 2005 but he proved to be more cautious. Ever since Karzai’s new administration took over in 2004, the economy of Afghanistan has been growing rapidly for the first time in many years. Three months after the 2009 election, President Karzai was officially declared the winner.The Obama administration urged Karzai to exclude ineffective or corrupt officials from the new government, while powerful Afghans who helped deliver his re-election were demanding positions. The 2014 presidential election was held in April 2014, followed by a run-off in June 2014. The results of both ballots were challenged by the losing candidate Abdullah Abdullah, who claimed the results were manipulated to ensure his opponent Ashraf Ghani was declared the winner. The results of the election remained in dispute until September 2014, despite a proposal by the United States that the candidates agree to a power-sharing deal. After a disputed election, Ashraf Ghani became President of Afghanistan and Abdullah Abdullah became Chief Executive Officer of Afghanistan in September 2014.
Bilateral Security Agreement with the US
Given the continued threat from Taliban and Pakistan’s covert and overt support to it, the Afghan government signed a Bilateral Security Agreement with the US. Building on the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America, signed 2 May 2012, the two countries signed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) on 30 September 2014. The BSA reaffirms that Afghanistan and the United States are committed to strengthen long-term strategic cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including: advancing peace, security, and stability, strengthening state institutions, supporting Afghanistan’s long-term economic and social development, and encouraging regional cooperation.
Need and initiatives for peace in Afghanistan
Afghanistan government is faced with unrelenting Talibani forces that intermittently engage in acts of violence aiming at destabilizing the government. The Taliban also attack civilian targets. The United States has kept 20,000 soldiers in order to maintain a presence within the country to support the Afghan government. Ending the 18-year conflict has eluded former US presidents, and Donald Trump has said that he considers the war too costly.But America’s consideration for gradual withdrawal of its forces would depend upon the success of the peace process in the country.
2019 Afghan elections
Presidential elections were held in Afghanistan on 28 September 2019. According to preliminary results, which runner-up Abdullah Abdullah appealed against, incumbent Ashraf Ghani was re-elected with 50.64% of the vote. After delays over disputed votes, Ashraf Ghani was declared the winner in the final results on 18 February 2020. Abdullah Abdullah rejected the results and moved to set up his own parallel government and separate inauguration. However, Ghani was officially sworn in for a second term on 9 March 2020. The ensuing political crisis was not resolved until 16 May 2020, when Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal in which Ghani would remain president and Abdullah would lead the peace talks with the Taliban when they start.
The Afghan peace process
The Afghan peace process comprises the efforts and related proposals and negotiations to end the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Although sporadic efforts have taken place since the war began in 2001, negotiations and the peace movement intensified in 2018 amid talks between the Taliban, which is the main insurgent group fighting against the Afghan government and American troops. Most of the talks have taken place in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where a Taliban office is based. It is expected that a mutual agreement between the Taliban and the United States would be followed by a phased American withdrawal and the start of intra-Afghan peace talks. Besides the United States, regional powers such as Pakistan, China and Russia, as well as NATO play a part in facilitating the peace process.
Agreement for conditional peace
On February 29, 2020, the U.S. signed a conditional peace agreement with the Taliban, which calls for the withdrawal of foreign troops in 14 months if the Taliban uphold the terms of the agreement. On March 1, 2020, however, the Afghan government, which was not a party to the deal, rejected the U.S. and Taliban’s call for a prisoner swap by March 10, 2020, with President Ashraf Ghani stating that such an agreement will require further negotiation and will also not be implemented as a precondition for future peace negotiations.
Agreement for swapping Taliban prisoners
On March 10, 2020, Ghani signed a decree agreeing to swap 1,500 Taliban prisoners starting March 14, 2020, but on the condition that they sign pledges agreeing to not return to combat. The same day, it was also revealed that there were no plans for a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. On March 10, the United Nations Security Council unanimously backed the U.S.-Taliban peace deal.
On March 11, 2020, however, the Taliban rejected Ghani’s prisoner swap proposal. On March 14, 2020 the U.S.-Taliban peace deal became endangered when Ghani delayed the release of Taliban prisoners. On April 7, 2020 The Taliban officially withdrew from prisoner swap talks, which had been taking place in Kabul starting 30 March 2020 and only resulted in the release of 100 Taliban prisoners on 8 April 2020. On May 13, 2020, following a spike in violence, President Ghani ordered the Afghan military to resume offensive against the Taliban.
Possibilities of resumption of peace talks
There was a stalemate for the last few months in the peace talks between warring Afghan factions. There are reports that they are finally set to begin in Doha after protracted delays over prisoners’ exchange as a Taliban delegation has returned to the Qatari capital and Afghan government negotiators are scheduled to reach there. It is reported that members of Taliban delegation returned to Doha after their Pakistan visit on September 05. The talks were originally scheduled to begin on March 10 as a sequel to the agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban in Doha in February. However, delays in the release of prisoners hindered the start of the talks. The release of last batch of nearly 400 Taliban prisoners in exchange for government commandoes earlier this week has paved the way for the talks to finally get under way. Reportedly, there is no firm agenda for the meeting. According to an Afghan minister, it would be a kind of “ice-breaking” session that might not have a long agenda. It is believed that the Afghan government side would first like to take up the easier issues like the “framework for negotiations” and how the process would proceed. It is claimed by government officials that the negotiating team would not be taking up the “red line issues” first. There was, however, an expectation about a “comprehensive ceasefire”. Afghanistan has still expressed its reservations about the Taliban’s ability to ensure compliance by their local commanders with any agreement on a ceasefire.