One Easy Step toward Peace in Afghanistan

Hezb-i-Islami is a low-hanging fruit in Ghani's peace process.

Prolonged conflicts are always difficult to resolve, since most of the time they depend on unexpected windows of opportunity. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has been at war for the past thirty-nine years. Warring parties, foreign interventions and internal power struggles have all made it difficult to find a peaceful solution to the protracted conflict.

Despite the long war, many opportunities have arisen that could have resolved the conflict. Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, both the United States and Pakistan failed to influence the mujahedin to reach a political settlement with Afghanistan’s former president, Najibullah. Seizing this opportunity could have saved thousands of lives and government institutions, while preventing the dissemination of radicalism. But the United States and Pakistan utterly failed to seize it.

The second missed opportunity to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan was from 1996 to 2001, when the Taliban regime controlled over 90 percent of the country. The Taliban regime and the resistance led by the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, whose Northern Alliance was confined to the country’s extreme northeast, had held several meetings in neighboring countries including Turkmenistan but did not succeed in reaching a consensus.

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in America, the United States and its allies decided to launch a military campaign against the Taliban, ousting its regime in a very short period of time. On November 25, 2001, the Bonn Conference was arranged, where different groups and influential figures of Afghanistan were invited to participate. However, two major Afghan groups, the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), were not invited to the Bonn Conference, and denied a share in the future of the Afghan government. This was the third crucial mistake of the United States and its allies. The effect was the marginalization of a large segment of society, which later became a systematic insurgency against the foreign forces and the Afghan government, which continues today.

Since then, there have been many initiatives, on the part of both the Afghan government and the international community to settle the Afghan dispute; none have succeeded so far.

After his elevation to the presidential palace, President Ghani stated that he would bring peace to the country by convincing both Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami leadership. In a bid to bring about peace, he approached the Pakistani government and its military to persuade the Taliban to approach the negotiations table for diplomatic peace talks. Ghani’s efforts were only reciprocated by lip service from Pakistan instead of concrete actions. As a result of the Pakistani government’s uncooperative and careless diplomacy, Ghani has stated clearly that he will not rely on nor request Pakistan to urge the Taliban to seek peace.

Disappointed by the Taliban’s behavior and lack of a sincere cooperation from the Pakistani leadership, Ghani’s government is currently negotiating with other major warring parties. Hezb-i-Islami has sent its delegation to Kabul in order to reach a political agreement with the Afghan government. HIA, which was once one of Afghanistan’s biggest political parties, has a soft approach when compared to the Taliban. This is therefore a golden opportunity for the Afghan government, led by Ghani, to reach a political settlement with HIA—a win-win for both the Afghan government and HIA.

 

Dividends for the Government and Hezb-i-Islami

If the Afghan government reaches a political agreement with Hezb-i-Islami, it will be the national unity government’s (NUG) biggest success since its election. The government can successfully include in the system a party that has not accepted the offers of other governments over the past four decades, which is the case for Hezb-i-Islami.

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