Afghanistan: Is The Absence of War a Substantial Condition for Peace?

26 Jul, 2013    ·   4055

Priyashree Andley contextualises conflict and peace theory to assess the current scenario in the country

The post-Cold War period has witnessed a significant shift in the nature of conflict. The number of internal conflicts increased and the intensity of behaviour of parties has undergone change. The number of actors involved increased as various pressure groups and ethnic/minority groups rose up in rebellion against the state or each other. However, interests within these groups are diverse and actions of coalitions are influenced by this internal political dynamic. Contemporary peace processes, crucial in a state’s transition from war to peace, highlight the complexity of these intra-state and inter-group relations.

In this background, the issue to be addressed is why civil war combatants may continue to fight even after a settlement, especially focussing on Afghanistan which is inching closer to its new government selection period in 2014. There are two types of peace processes. One that follows an agreement and the other is followed by an agreement. This distinction is useful for linking the nature of the peace process to the relapse to war. The critical challenge for conflict resolution in Afghanistan is to convince conflicting parties to submit to a new political scenario by giving up their individual defences when they are most vulnerable and lack guarantee of their opponents doing the same.

It is necessary to differentiate between two types of interventions: hard (military) and soft (diplomatic ties, track two level talks, humanitarian aid). However, there is a very thin line separating the two as humanitarian relief is largely getting ‘militarised’ as seen in the case of Afghanistan. Military intervention leading to a settlement under auspices of third parties can be a necessary mechanism in conflict resolution, but not the final solution. Just before Joe Biden, the Vice President of the US’ visit to India, he confirmed that if the Taliban wished to play a positive role in Afghan polity, they would have to break ties with Al-Qaida, stop supporting violence and accept the Afghan constitution.

If the US is still asserting the need for the Taliban to stop violence and end contacts with Al-Qaida, then have the ten years of presence of the international community in Afghanistan been successful?

It is necessary to recognise and address violence as a structural problem rooted in the political, social, and cultural context. However, coordinating the work of multiple actors with different approaches is challenging, requiring collaborations between them and their roles. Secondly, agencies at the local and middle level often avoid working with national authorities making peace processes fragmented. Moreover, the role and nature of civil society varies in conflicting states. In Afghanistan, the civil society has less capacity to act as a countervailing force on the Taliban and warlords with entrenched localised power.

There is a fear among different groups that once US-led forces withdraw post the 2014 elections it could lead to marginalisation, especially if the Taliban reasserts its political hold. The case of an attack on Malala Yousafzai when she was travelling home from school in SWAT valley in Pakistan, and the response by a member of the Pakistani Taliban claiming that she is maligning the insurgents proves the same. Last week, she celebrated her 16th birthday, giving a speech at the UN in New York, in which she called on world leaders to provide free schooling for all children.

Today, conflict resolution needs to concern itself with social, psychological, and political changes affecting all actors. The gap between urgency and sustainability increases the incentive for rebellion, causing a breakdown in peace processes.  Currently, resolution aims at state-building, perpetuating the international order of sovereign nation-states, as is visible in the case of Afghanistan. It reasserts the role of dominant actors.

According to the UN, Afghan elections scheduled for April 2014, will be a 'make or break' event and it is vital that the Afghan parliament pass two legislations related to the upcoming elections. One is related to the roles and responsibilities of the Independent Election Commission and the second is related to the main electoral law governing Afghan elections.

However, even if these elections become the legitimate way of the democratic transfer of authority and the basis of internal legitimacy, can they be the bases for future stability and Afghanistan's transformation? Will the different interest groups and political forces accept their results as credible?

Political objection or physical action can affect the peace process today, as well as the upcoming elections too. Intra-factional politics play an important role in affecting conflict as well as peace today. The problem of unsuccessful peace processes arise because of the assumption that the Western-style, neo-liberal market democracies hold the answer to all civil wars. Enhancing the capacities of local people in the process of bringing peaceful social change is very crucial. Therefore, what is the most effective model of international and local partnership for long term stability in a conflict ridden state is still unknown.