America’s longest war is coming to an end. As we rejoice over the prospect of troops coming home, we should also be anxious over the future of a region consumed with violence. An entire generation of Afghans has grown up seeing nothing but occupation, war and violence. What does the future hold for them?
There is fear among many that now the United States can claim ‘victory,’ it will walk away from the region, leaving a legacy of violence, a corrupt government, and two dozen militants groups to battle out the future of this war-torn state.
During the last decade, military operations against the Taliban have yielded mixed results. The group still maintains ‘zones of influence’ and enjoys significant power over large chunks of land.
Violence has escalated in recent years and there is every indication that the undertrained and understaffed Afghan army will pose little threat to the Taliban. It is important to realize that strong anti-Taliban feelings do persist in parts of Afghanistan and if these feelings weaken, as they have in the past, all the gains made by the NATO in the region will soon be reversed. Not to mention how this rapid escalation of violence will affect their already volatile nuclear-armed neighbor, Pakistan, and consequently disturb the security of the rising economic power in India.
Since the Afghan government by itself is seemingly incapable of bringing peace throughout the country, and extending the withdrawal deadline will do more harm than good, the United States is left with few realistic solutions for bringing stability to the region.
Despite their horrendous views on women and human rights, the Taliban remain the single most powerful group in the country after NATO. Once the NATO forces leave the country, the group will attempt to fill in the power vacuum created by the withdrawal. Therefore it is imperative that all stakeholders make a sincere attempt to engage the Taliban into a dialogue over the future of Afghanistan.
These negotiations need not be viewed as endorsements to the Taliban worldview but as a sincere attempt to bring stability in the region. There is little doubt that many have joined the Taliban movement as reactionaries and an effective dialogue may help dissuade them from the path of violence.
Talking to the Taliban and making them stakeholders in the Afghan peace process is a prerequisite to long-term stability in the region. Therefore it is critical to make an attempt to bridge political and power differences and to try and include the Taliban into the mainstream democratic process.
Mainstreaming militant groups into society and governments has yielded some extraordinary results in the past and it may house tremendous potential in a country like Afghanistan.
Meanwhile there have been some rumors of backdoor negotiations with the Taliban which have been aided by the Taliban’s newly opened diplomatic office in Qatar and the release of high profile militants from Pakistani prisons. Such negotiations need to continue so that all factions are taken on board to determine the roadmap for the future.
These measures are paramount to keep Afghanistan from falling into the same chaos as it did after their war with the Soviets and we can hope that the state department will not make the same mistakes as it once did a few decades ago.