The Challenges of Post-Conflict Resolution Peacebuilding in Afghanistan

Situationer: Helmand
October 21, 2020
October 25, 2020

Soldiers attached to the 101st Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, Iowa National Guard and 10th Mountain, 2-14 Infantry Battalion, load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out on a mission in Afghanistan, January 15, 2019. 1st Lt. Verniccia Ford/U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC110D3B25B0

BY Dr. Maria Saifuddin Effendi

A protracted and violent conflict zone nourishes a tendency to fall victim of emerging hostile environment and differences even after it is resolved. Conflict usually has undying or slowly dying energy and it tends to emerge, get complicated, manage and resolve (with persistent efforts) and may reemerge out of the ashes of the same conflict or its resolution.  Post-conflict resolution peacebuilding is therefore a nerve-testing and time-consuming process which requires political will, commitment, smooth flow of finances to be invested in various sectors and multi-stakeholder approach for better coordination and cooperation to achieve common goal. The post conflict resolution peacebuilding bears certain risks on political front too. Since it’s a transition period for government, institutions and communities, there are always chances of newer power blocs and challenges in shape of a variety of rising issues such as sectarian and ethnicity, self-sufficiency in security mechanism, adjustments and readjustments to contextualize a suitable form of government to fulfill needs of all communities and stakeholders and management of regional political and security dynamics.  

The phenomena of post conflict resolution peacebuilding is governed through five R’s; Reconstruction of war torn infrastructure, Rebuilding of institutions, Reconciliation between or among warring factions, Rehabilitation of survivors and perpetrators and Reintegration of former combatants

The phenomena of post conflict resolution peacebuilding is governed through five R’s; Reconstruction of war torn infrastructure, Rebuilding of institutions, Reconciliation between or among warring factions, Rehabilitation of survivors and perpetrators and Reintegration of former combatants. In Afghanistan, the process of these five R’s is already taking place. 2020 saw the start of Afghan peace process with February and September 2020’s dialogue of Taliban vis-à-vis the US and Afghan government and now this reconciliatory visit of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, to Pakistan carries promising omen towards the commitment to bring peace. His visit proved as fruitful and Pakistan fully supported the indigenously evolving peace process in Afghanistan and assured bilateral cooperation with Afghanistan for regional peace and stability. Yet Afghanistan is in the initial process of closing the decades old violent conflict and dealing with many issues before preluding sustainable peace and development and post conflict resolution peacebuilding seems a longer process considering various deep-rooted issues in the country.

Reconstruction of infrastructure is usually supported by international donors. In case of Afghanistan, the US has been allocating funds to Afghan government for security and reconstructive projects. As per Congressional Research Service Report, US government appropriated $ 137 bn. with 63% for security and 26 % for development since 2002. For 2021, the US government requests $4 billion for the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, $250 million in Economic Support Funds, and smaller amounts to help the Afghan government with other tasks like counter narcotics. Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) was established one year after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 primarily managed by World Bank and 34 international donors to look after development in major sectors such as education, health, agriculture, rural development, infrastructure, and governance. Since then the Fund has been actively involved in various reconstruction, rebuilding and peacebuilding projects. Similarly, economic support is given by international financial institutions such as World Bank to provide medical relief in wake of Covid-19 in June 2020. Violence and pandemic brought more misery for Afghan people and World Bank approved $200 million for Afghanistan in these testing times. The medical rehabilitation of Covid-19 hit population is under process and the physical rehabilitation of war victims and survivors has been going on with the efforts of International Committee of Red Cross for past 30 years. ICRC is supporting programs with its seven limb-fitting centers in Afghanistan to cater need of 178,000 ill—fated survivors of landmines, bombings and disease such as polio.

As per Congressional Research Service Report, US government appropriated $ 137 bn. with 63% for security and 26 % for development since 2002. For 2021, the US government requests $4 billion for the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, $250 million in Economic Support Funds, and smaller amounts to help the Afghan government with other tasks like counter narcotics.

Now the fifth R of post conflict resolution peacebuilding i.e. Reintegration of former combatants is also underway through the recently initiated intra-Afghan Peace Process and which seems the most challenging one. Reintegration can be interpreted in two ways in Afghan context; 1. The power-sharing deal between Afghan government and Taliban and 2. Reintegration of Taliban as former combatants within various sectors of the society and how to reintegrate and readjust the portion of population which still sympathizes and believes Taliban’s system of governance.

 Therefore, this phase of the peacebuilding carries potential for emergence of new or reemergence of few more issues during or after the course of the peace process. The primary conflict driver in post 9/11 Afghanistan was specific (Salafi) school of thought of religion (Islam) and the transitional democratic government in Afghanistan already believes to follow Islamic principles as part of its prevalent constitution. However, the stalemate still persists between the Taliban and Afghan government on the ‘form’ of governance to share power. It seems that the deadlock is not which ‘form’ of government Taliban desire to have but it’s more about the lens of which Islamic school of thought would be followed in post conflict resolution Afghanistan.

The reintegration of Taliban in various sectors of Afghan society includes four challenges:

1. No consensus on the form of government. There is a deep rooted mistrust between Afghan government and Taliban due to two different interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence. To Afghan government, it is already following Islamic laws. To Taliban, the current government isn’t trust worthy in terms of implementing Shariah Law because Afghan government has adopted rather a liberal and westernized approach which is in sharp contrast to fundamental Islamic values. The continuous difference of interpretations to define Islamic values by both Afghan government and Taliban is the major hurdle to bring consensus to single framework for governance.

2. Ethnic composition of Afghanistan and evolving an indigenous model of democracy under multi-stakeholder approach is another challenge. Indigenousness involves embracing and empowering all ethnicities; incorporating glocalization by merging local culture while preparing and developing government, institutions and communities to respond to contemporary trends of globalization; distribution of resources equally and providing space to all vulnerable groups such as minorities, women and differently abled people etc. Predominantly a Sunni Muslim country of tribal orientation, Afghanistan has multi-ethnic demographics. It has 42% Pashtuns and Kuchis (nomad group), 27% Tajiks, 9% Hazaras, 9% Uzbeks, 4% Aimaq, 3% Turkmen, 2% Baloch and other groups make 4%. The reintegration challenge does not only cater consensus building on interpretation of Islamic law but also incorporating a pluralistic, ethnically representative indigenous model of democracy. Pashtuns have historically been influential power holders yet divided within their own domains politically. Kuchis, nomadic group from Pashtuns, though are not politically powerful yet face issues of settlements and livelihoods. Tajiks are diaspora from Tajikistan and second largest ethnic group after Pashtuns but diaspora communities are usually taken as conflict drivers in an ethnically diverse country. Hazaras, once majority in Afghanistan, form a minority both ethnically and sect wise. Most of them belong to Shiite sect of Islam and they have diaspora in Pakistan also. Once the power sharing set up emerges, the focus has to involve linguistic, sectarian and ethnic dynamics also. The geography of Afghanistan many not allow it to have a singular form of government with no room for ethnic and sectarian minorities. Most of its ethnic communities have kinship with neighboring states such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Pashtuns in Pakistan and Shiite Hazara in Iran and Pakistan also. Any ethnic or sectarian fissure in Afghanistan carries security risks for border countries also. It is therefore imperative to follow a multi-stakeholder approach while forming the local government.

3. Making Taliban as part of key institutions while not having enough trust between the stakeholders is another challenge esp. when the country is victim of brutal violence even during the peace process. While Afghan government and Taliban are evaluating options to form government, they have to make extra ordinary efforts to bridge the gap and develop enough trust. Afghan Peace Process brought them as negotiating partners yet the two seem to be failed to have realized that they are equal partners to build peace by stopping violence. Taliban would ultimately be integrated into core security, political and economic set up. None of the institutions would function properly if the two partners keep acting as two competitors or opponents.

4. Identifying emerging spoilers and dealing with old one(s). Afghanistan has been a complexed conflict with multiple actors and their specific roles and interest; the US, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Afghan government, ISIS, Pakistan, India and other regional and international actors. Withdrawal of the US troops sounds easy yet difficult to gauge Afghanistan’s future once American troops are gone, what would be the situation for immediate security concerns esp. when the violence is still continuing and no ceasefire is signed by Afghan government and Taliban. The newer spoiler such as ISIS and may be Iran in any vulnerable or triggering circumstances (as a response to a staunch Sunni dominated government in Afghanistan) have to be dealt wisely. How ISIS is going to be tackled? What role India, as a major donor and capacity builder, will play its role in Afghanistan (as an old spoiler may be)? Iran has recently been invited by the US to join Afghan peace process for greater regional connectivity also and Pakistan which is lauded by the US and Afghan government both for its facilitating role, peace is crucial not only for Afghanistan but for the region too.

In lieu of these few challenges, the road to peace looks bumpy but not entirely bleak in Afghanistan. The need of hour is persistent efforts, multi-stakeholder approach, political will and immense patience from all primary and secondary conflict actors along with the wisdom not to break the momentum of peace process due to continuous violence. Peace has to be developed slowly and sustainably and the sun will rise for an inclusive, multi-ethnic and pluralistic Afghanistan.

Dr. Maria Saifuddin Effendi is Assistant Professor at National Defence University, Islamabad