Afghanistan: Is it time for reconciliation?

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A two-day International Conference of Muslim Scholars on Peace and Stability in the Republic of Afghanistan, sponsored by Riyadh and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was held on July 10 this year. The conference came at a very complex and delicate time due to the current difficulties being experienced by Afghanistan. On a daily basis, Afghanistan is the scene of confrontations between security elements and the Afghan army on the one hand, and Taliban fighters on the other, in addition to the remnants of Al-Qaeda and Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS). Such confrontations have resulted in a large number of casualties among civilians. The conference, which was attended by more than 105 prominent Muslim scholars from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco and other countries, aimed to consolidate peace and stability in Afghanistan and condemned all forms of terrorism and violent extremism.

Since being elected president of the Republic of Afghanistan in September 2014, Dr. Ashraf Ghani has attached great importance to the issue of reconciliation with the Taliban. His government has also signed a peace agreement with the Islamic Party, the first peace agreement signed by the Afghan government with an armed opposition group since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001. The government hopes that such a move might motivate other armed groups fighting the Afghan government, including the Taliban, to stop violence, participate in the peace process and solve problems through dialogue and peaceful means.

What makes the matter more pressing is that some reports indicate that the Taliban has influence and control over some 70 percent of the country: full control over 14 areas which make up 4 percent of Afghan territory and influence and presence in more than 263 other areas which make up 66 percent of the country.

Therefore, I believe that the only way to achieve peace in Afghanistan is through holding peace talks between the government of Kabul and the Taliban with a view to reaching a political settlement. I hope that future conferences discuss, in practical terms, some important questions regarding the possibility of finding a common ground for reconciliation with the Taliban if it decides to abandon terrorism and extremism and agrees to sit at the negotiating table.

It has to be asked what other courses the government may have if the Taliban does not accept reconciliation, and what role Saudi Arabia can play in the reconciliation process in light of the 85 years of historical relations between the two countries, dating back to the foundation of the Kingdom. Needless to say, Saudi Arabia, by virtue of its religious eminence and political and economic weight, is in an ideal position to create an environment conducive to peaceful reconciliation, and to make it a success.

Furthermore, in fighting extremism and terrorism. Afghanistan continues to witness dramatic escalation in terrorist operations, putting it at the top of the global terrorism index. According to the Global Terrorism Index (2012-2016) published by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a research center based in the United States and Australia, six countries topped the index, including Afghanistan. There is also fear that fighters and leaders of Daesh in Iraq and Syria may move to Afghanistan as the situation worsens, attracted by the insecurity, disorder and lack of control which exists in the country.

Furthermore, the Pakistan Taliban has already declared allegiance to Daesh and ordered its militants across the region to support it in its campaign to establish an Islamic “Caliphate”, and is fiercely fighting to enter the Afghan arena and to have influence there. Therefore, one of the objectives of the July conference was to refute the misinterpretation of religious texts by terrorist groups, delegitimize their actions, and instill a spirit of tolerance and moderation.

Finally, the international community and especially Afghanistan’s neighboring countries must stand up for this war-ravaged country and help it to achieve stability and security, rebuild the country and promote economic development. Nearly 36 percent of the population of Afghanistan still lives below the poverty line making less than $2 a day.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibrahim.othaimin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin


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