ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan has made historic achievements regarding peace recently, senior diplomats said on Wednesday.

The Islamabad Policy Research Institute organized a special webinar on “Afghan Peace Process: The Way Forward”, which featured former ambassadors Riaz Mohammad Khan, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi and Rustam Shah Mohmand.

It was unanimously agreed that the US-Taliban peace deal in February this year, and President Ashraf Ghani giving Abdullah Abdullah the leading role in seeking peace with the Taliban and the ability to name half the cabinet, were historic achievements.

Both offers hope for the much more challenging stage of the peace process in Afghanistan, the intra-Afghan dialogue between the Kabul government, various political factions and the Taliban.

All the speakers agreed that the Taliban’s capacity to control violence was questionable and so before the withdrawal, the US along with other regional leaders needed to define the minimum standard of what would constitute the new governance framework of the country.

It was also opined that complete withdrawal of the US is not on the table. The US would likely have presence in Afghanistan to keep a close eye on China, and perhaps even support Indian interests in the region, which might keep them in confrontation with the Taliban.

Hope for intra-Afghan dialogue as stakeholders in and outside Afghanistan looking to serve their interests

Ambassador Riaz Muhammad Khan discussed how this power sharing arrangement between two election opponents lucidly defined the role of both: President Ghani, who being a technocrat, would have control of the executive without having to deal with another de facto “Prime Minister”, whereas Abdullah Abdullah, having a reputation for building consensus amongst different political groups, is saddled with leading the High Council for National Reconciliation. He also pointed out that while the Taliban have outlasted American military might, their test begins on the negotiating table.

According to Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the existential challenge of global warming, COVID-19 and its succeeding pandemics are likely to occur with shorter and shorter intervals and are likely to fatally distract and disable Afghanistan. He called for a comprehensive ‘green new deal’ which would transform national policies, including foreign policies.

Ambassador Qazi held that similar to Pakistan, in Kabul there was a ruthless and unending high-level corruption on daily display - a classic instance of elite governance through class warfare. He regretted that in such circumstances, merely honest and well-intentioned leaders might at best bring about piecemeal improvements, but never the systemic structural change required for survival.

He outlined that  the best case scenario is of a coalition political set-up which integrates the Taliban with the current dispensation in power-sharing, declares Daesh as the single biggest threat to Afghanistan, power is decentralized, with foreign troops replaced by an international monitoring mission.

Rustam Shah Mohmand was of the view that the role of regional powers has been instrumental in the once considered elusive peace process in Afghanistan.

The joint statement of representatives of Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia on 18 May 2020, shows the intent for an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process. All regional players will be beneficiaries of peace deal. However, he warned that given the huge financial investments made by India in various sectors, it will continue to meddle in Afghan affairs, especially to destabilize Pakistan.

He also cautioned about some past policies that have resulted in reduced trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan souring relations between the relations between the two countries.

In his welcome and concluding remarks, Acting President IPRI, Brigadiar Raashid Wali Janjua (retd) highlighted that there was a consensus on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan which was contingent on the outcome of the intra-Afghan dialogue.