As the Trump administration continues its direct talks with the Taliban, Afghanistan’s former ambassador to Canada underscores the need for reaching a political settlement in his country.
Speaking at a panel on Afghanistan at the University of British Columbia, Omar Samad, who was Afghanistan’s ambassador to Ottawa from 2004 to 2009, said that his country cannot continue going “from one stage of upheaval and disarray to another stage and another stage”.
“We could have had a political settlement years ago. We could have had a political settlement after the Americans came to Afghanistan—at the Bonn Conference [in late 2001]. But that never happened,” Samad said at the event, which took place in early May. “We cannot, this country cannot continue living [like this]. Political settlement is key to resolve the Afghan conflict.”
Samad, now a senior, nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, adds that “the time has to come, sooner or later, that we have to resolve [our] the fundamental issues and be a modern state.”
“What we need to do is to find a solution, a quick solution, to peace, and how to move forward in the face of challenges that exist right now. And can we fix the problem without finding a peaceful solution?" Samad added.
Another member of the panel, former Canadian senator Jack Austin, sees a lack of agreement among Afghans as the key reason that the country cannot come to a consensus on its issues.
“This is the difficulty within Afghanistan," Austin, also a former chief of staff to Pierre Trudeau, stated. "Agreement on anything doesn’t exist.”
He maintained that the war in Afghanistan is a war among Afghans themselves.
"The outside world has its interest. Today, those countries, they will play with the ball, but they cannot interfere physically in Afghanistan,” Austin said. “The Americans want out. [So] Afghanistan has to find a consensus after the Americans go—a consensus that provides the Taliban a place in Afghanistan [and] in the Afghan society, a place in which their objectives can be accommodated.”
The former Afghan and Canadian officials echoed the need for a political consensus and settlement in Afghanistan at a time when the Trump administration has ramped up its efforts to reach a peace deal with the Taliban.
Political settlement a priority
So far, the U.S. and the Taliban have held six rounds of direct talks in Doha, Qatar.
The seventh round of peace talks between the two is scheduled to start as early as this week in the capital of the small Gulf state, Qatar, where the Taliban has an informal political office.
U.S. Representative for Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who leads the American delegation in peace talks with the Taliban, reported “steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war”, at the conclusion of his latest round of talks with the Taliban in Doha.
“A peace process that delivers a political settlement is the priority of [the U.S.],” assured Khalilzad in a tweet last month.
However, the Taliban’s refusal to engage in direct talks with President Ashraf Ghani’s government has increased concerns and suspicions among Afghan citizens toward the ongoing peace talks between the militant group and Washington.
According to a survey conducted by the Asia Foundation last year, the majority of Afghans continue to oppose the Taliban.
The poll showed that Afghans continue to dislike the armed opposition groups, with 82.4 percent indicating that they have “no sympathy” for the Taliban.
The survey, which is the result of interviews with over 15,000 Afghans, highlights a two-percent increase in the number of Afghans opposing the Taliban.
Another poll by the Kabul-based Afghan Institute of Strategic Studies (AISS) indicates that the Taliban “enjoy very little popularity among [Afghan] people”, with 17.9 percent of people unfavourably referring to them as the “enemies of Afghanistan”, 13 percent calling them “terrorists”, and another 13 percent labeling them as “mercenaries”.
According to the AISS survey, merely 3.1 percent of Afghans refer to the Taliban as Mujahideen—a term used by the Taliban to refer to themselves.
Despite the ongoing talks between the Trump administration and the Taliban to reach a possible peace deal for ending the Afghan war, the prospect of a peaceful Afghanistan in the near future still looks grim.
In his 2019 first quarterly report, U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan’s Reconstruction John F. Sopko warned that a possible peace deal with the Taliban won’t end the Afghan crisis.
Sopko urged policymakers in Washington to plan for the “day after” a possible deal is reached with the Taliban, adding that “should peace come, if that peace is to be sustainable, it will come at an additional price that only external donors can afford.”