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Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah arrives for an intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar

The Biden Administration And Afghan Peace Negotiations In Doha

As the peace process in Doha continues to unfold, the Biden Administration will face several difficult decisions regarding the future of Afghanistan. The war’s effects have been felt at every level. With trust at an all time low, Americans have demanded solutions to the never-ending wars which plague U.S. Foreign Policy and fail to address the plight of average Afghans. However, a full-scale withdraw from the crucial peace talks would prove imprudent and disastrous for all parties. Additionally, renewing Operation Enduring Freedom is no longer a viable option. Thus, a comprehensive grand strategy that accounts for current realities on the ground and capitalises on upcoming negotiations prior to the May 1st deadline is necessary.

 

Operation Enduring Freedom

Withdrawing from Afghanistan neglects the reality on the ground. Namely that even a limited U.S. presence in the region prevents the Taliban from establishing an emirate with its capital in Kabul in a matter of months. It would also entail consequences such as the outbreak of a civil war, fortifying Al-Qaeda’s safe havens, and the emergence of a refugee crisis. The Afghan military is not equipped to handle another Taliban insurgency. The Taliban’s forces have grown precipitously as of late, ascending to around fifty-thousand fighters.

Additionally, they continue to generate hundreds of millions of dollars from the opium trade and enjoy support from select, rural portions of the country. Reviving Operation Enduring Freedom is also not a viable option, having claimed thousands of lives and burned through billions of taxpayer dollars. America will not send its men and women overseas to “get the job done,” when the proverbial goal-post keeps moving farther and farther away. For nearly a decade, the United States has clung to the narrative of training and equipping Afghan forces. This sentiment will not be dislodged, and nor should it be.

 

Engaging with the Peace Process

Although the Taliban entered negotiations to settle for peace, they failed to uphold their commitments. Furthermore, previous talks have often collapsed due to subsidiary issues such as, prisoner exchanges. For example, the original deal included the severing of ties between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, yet the relationship remains intact. The mention of peace has led to the narrative that the Taliban had defeated the world’s great superpower. Their refusal to concede even on subsidiary points reflects their vision of victory. With this in mind, the U.S. must gently pressure the Taliban to accept mutually-agreed upon terms, without risking further conflict.

Knowing which areas to pressure will require in-depth knowledge of the ever-changing local circumstances. It will also require a willingness to negotiate with an emboldened enemy. If the U.S. does not commit to the likely prolonged peace process, it runs the risk of damaging its credibility in the long-run. Despite debates regarding ISIS’s presence in Iraq prior to 2014, the premature withdrawal and unwillingness to monitor and support the transition of power directly contributed to ISIS’s success, especially in terms of vital materials such as weapons caches and vehicles. The Biden Administration must take heed of this vital lesson.

 

Afghanistan’s Lasting Peace

A viable option, which achieves the goals of diminishing foreign military presence and addressing the terrorist concerns, would be to bolster U.S. intelligence operations. Afghan security forces also need strengthening to uproot the safe-havens guaranteed by Taliban officials in quasi-independent regions of the country. This would also remove the leverage held by Taliban forces who frequently bait U.S. diplomatic efforts. Taliban promises of abandoning their affiliation with terrorist groups will need to be achieved.

Additionally, the Taliban successfully managed to avoid their promises, while placing a clock on the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces. They understood that the United States, like many other great nations before it, would grow weary of fighting recurring insurgencies. If the U.S. leaves without creating conditions for lasting peace, it fails to uphold its promises to the Afghan people. And may damage its reputation within Afghanistan in the process.

 

The Role of the United States

In the meantime, a core group of U.S. troops must remain in the country to support a lasting peace. Particularly as diplomacy alone will not solve the endemic problems facing Afghanistan and its people. A further demonstration that the U.S. will maintain its resolve in the support of Afghan government forces, would send the message that negotiations are the only path forward. Currently, the United States has not proven that it can dismantle Taliban forces or build a sustainable government.

Thus, the negotiations are stuck in limbo. The Taliban also understand that they can outlast the U.S. military. If the United States does not intend to strengthen the government’s capabilities, then negotiations represent a means to manipulate the country’s future. And all without sacrificing valuable assets. A true strategic vision for Afghanistan is not Taliban-centric, either. It incorporates Pakistan, China, and others who have stakes in a stable and secure Afghanistan. Pakistan has long refused to provide assistance to U.S. forces in the fight against terrorist entities such as Al-Qaeda, and they are seeking to alter this perception by facilitating discussions and refusing to throw support to either side, which could improve relations with the international community at large.

 

Conclusion

In short, the problems facing Afghanistan are an American problem, and given the current deadline of May 1st, the United States possesses little time to find a solution that is beneficial for all parties. The United States, despite its unparalleled ability to project power, is not negotiating from a position of strength. Some could argue that an extension of the current deadline would solve the problem. However, extensions often lead to a lack of urgency. The Taliban need only wait until a new administration arrives or the deal collapses on its own. Finally, a soon-to-be-announced conference may address the possibility for an extension directly.

Human Rights Abuses by China

Human Rights Abuses By The People’s Republic of China

Overview

Out of the eleven million Uyghurs living in Xinjiang in China, between 800,000 and one million people have been detained in Chinese internment camps indefinitely.1 Despite the initial denial by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), leaked documents and first hand accounts detail the repressive policies targeting the Uyghurs. Reportedly, these internment camps permit torture, food deprivation, forced labor, and sterilisation. The PRC now defends these abuses in the name of national security. While evidence has shown that Uyghurs have been increasingly targeted for their cultural and religious practices. 

The world is not new to these atrocities. The Holocaust, in addition to the Rwandan, Cambodian, and Rohingya genocide, have stained the past century. However, while other governments commit such atrocities, the PRC plays a unique role. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, they are able to weaken human rights worldwide. They are able to do this while not facing penalties for their violations.

One of the biggest security challenges within the international system is the rise of the PRC on a global scale. Fearing the loss of their own power, the PRC uses its economic prowess to silence its opposition within and beyond their borders. This has led to their policies and actions often undermining the very international system upholding human rights standards. 

The Role of the United States

President Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, which imposes sanctions on foreign individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. While it is a step in the right direction, and more than the U.S. did at the beginning of Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia, it may not be enough.

As the PRC poses a significant threat to U.S. hegemony, the U.S. should be inclined to act. One possible approach could be to implement a multilateral and multidimensional approach that deters these atrocities. 

The U.S. is uniquely capable of campaigning for multilateral partnerships across the world to increase international pressure on Beijing. However, economic sanctions solely distributed by the U.S., would hurt the Western nation more than the PRC. They would also be relatively ineffective considering the PRC is a top exporting country.

However, the Chinese government cannot maintain its economic dominance if ties across portions of the world are severed. Ideally, the U.S. could partner with Japan, South Korea, or Australia to implement economic penalties or forge military partnerships. This unprecedented global pressure could expedite economic hardship and successfully disrupt PRC supply chains.

Challenges

In normal circumstances, the UN could be a potential mitigator. However, the PRC vetos all matters detrimental to them, including what constitutes a genocide. The PRC previously used its veto power in regards to human rights violations in Syria and Myanmar. This has showcased their efforts to neglect human rights standards.

Therefore, it is imperative to look at other organisations such as The Uyghur Human Rights Project or World Uyghur Congress to seek institutional change. The gradual progression of international awareness can be accelerated by advocacy from these organisations and other grassroots movements that will force governments worldwide to unite and take action. 

Recommendations

Internationally, communities could use the 2022 Olympics as a platform to urge the Olympic Committee to reconsider holding the Olympics in Beijing. Widespread and severe actions must be taken in order to stop genocides. Too often we see the world idly watch and fail. Despite the challenge, world powers should come together and take a stance against nations who do not follow global standards in regards to human rights.

EU commitment to Afghanistan

The European Union And Their Long-Term Commitment To Afghanistan

Since 2001, the European Union (EU) has shown its interest in Afghanistan, resulting in 4 billion Euros provided in aid. This has made Afghanistan the largest beneficiary of its development assistance. The EU’s interest in Afghanistan has both a humanitarian element and the interest in reducing the root causes of its migration flows. These migration flows arise as a result of the security situation, the political instability and the economic crisis. 

EU Development Aid In Afghanistan

The EU’s recent strategic objectives for development aid within Afghanistan, were defined by the 2014-2020 Multiannual Indicative Programme. The programme focused on three main priority sectors: the creation of peace and stability, the fostering of economic growth and the provision of social services. 

The EU still shows a strong commitment to the establishment of peace in Afghanistan. The long-term intentions of these commitment was reaffirmed by the EU’s support in Afghanistan for peace and stability. In January 2021, Ms. Urpilainen, the European Commissioner for International Partnerships, assured Mr. Atmar, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, of the European Union’s firm support to the continuation and success of the Afghan peace process.  

The EU’s Role In Afghanistan’s Peace

According to the European Union, the signature, on 29th of February 2020, of the agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban and the parallel Declaration between the Government of Afghanistan and the U.S, already lay the foundations for the settlement of an Intra-Afghan Peace negotiations in order to find a just and durable solution to the conflict. 

The EU stresses the importance of reaffirming a strong support for an Afghan-owned and an Afghan-led peace process. It supports that the peace process should be owned by Afghans. Including that international partners should have to respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty and independence during peace negotiations. The EU highlights the crucial role of the Taliban and the Afghan government in the establishment of peace. It also creates a space where the mutual ceasefire between the actors. And acts as a highly relevant confidence-building measure between the two sides.

Challenges

The European Union stresses the importance of inclusivity within the peace process. This inclusivity includes all political factions, minorities, civil societies and women are meaningfully represented. The representation of all in Afghanistan would ease the peace process and would support grievances and promote reconciliation. For this, the EU calls on all stakeholders to put above all other considerations the interests of the nation.

The European Union stands ready to facilitate and promote the settlement of the peace process. But it also believes that the peace-making negotiations should be held not forgetting the achievements of the former years. These achievements are specifically important in the areas of social and economic development, human rights protection and freedom protections for all Afghans, with special consideration on women.

It is only in this way that the democratic foundation of a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. The EU also places importance on the reintegration of former fighters, their families, and the victims of conflict in Afghanistan.

Recommendations

To achieve peace in Afghanistan, the European Union is working with all parties. The meeting on the 24th of March in Brussels between the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell Fontelles, and the US secretary, Antony Blinken, has showed a strong willingness of cooperation between the US and EU. In fact, Roland Kobia, the EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan, has twitted “EU and US intend to intensify cooperation on Afghanistan to advance the peace process & ensure its long-term stability/prosperity”. The cooperation of these two international actors is a positive sign for the creation of an enduring peace in Afghanistan. 

 

Gulf relationships and their importance to Afghanistan and its peace process

The Gulf States’ Relationship With Afghanistan And Peace

The Persian Gulf states have played an important role in Afghanistan’s conflict. Their prominence in the area will likely continue to do so after American troops withdraw. During the Soviet occupation, Saudi Arabia matched American funding to the mujahideen for weapons and humanitarian development. One of the financiers was Osama Bin Laden. Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi ideology and religious leaders also served to stir anti-Soviet sentiment and inspire Arabs to join the mujahideen.

Gulf Region Cooperation

In 1996, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only Gulf states to recognise the Taliban government after its takeover of Kabul. After strained relations over the extradition of Bin Laden, they formally cut ties with its government after 9/11. Since the US invasion, Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have facilitated negotiations with various Afghan parties. This includes the most recent negotiations in Doha, and have given millions of dollars for reconstruction.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will have increased importance as the US prepares to leave the country, after two decades. Much of the investment and reconstruction efforts by the GCC are influenced by external actors like Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan is one of Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s closest partners, and they will pursue development projects that advance their objectives to strengthen their Sunni base in Afghanistan. Not only can Riyadh and Abu Dhabi advance their regional interests in the country, but they can also create goodwill with the United States by taking increased responsibility in counterterrorism and stability operations.

Relationships Within The Gulf

Unlike some Gulf states who relied on the US as their conduit into Afghanistan, Iran independently forged partnerships. It’s partnerships with various groups and leaders have strengthened its position in the country. With American troops leaving, Saudi and Emirati could find their relationship in increasingly precarious positions. Iran has interests protecting the Hazara Shia community, which comprises 15-20% of the Afghan population from persecution and Taliban violence. Many Hazara are recruited to the defend Bashar Al-Assad through the Fatemiyoun Brigade, an Afghan detachment founded by Qassim Soleimani to participate in Iran’s regional agenda. Iran’s economic foothold in Afghanistan as its largest trading partner as of 2018 will also create concerns with Saudi and Pakistani officials who will try to subvert its influence. US engagement with Iran on other issues like the nuclear issue may increase the urgency of Iran’s rivals to curb its influence in Afghanistan.

Summary & Recommendations

The Persian Gulf states invested millions of dollars in Afghanistan after 9/11. Their involvement in the country will likely increase to fill the void once held by US troops. They may support armed groups if civil war ensues or support their respective religious and political allies to retain influence during peace. The mediation and stability brought by the Gulf states in Afghanistan will continue. The result of its loss would be a breakout of conflict, which would destabilise the region. This result is not in any of the countries’ interests. These investments are a broader competition between regional rivals, who want to advance their religious, security and political goals.

 

Reintegration of ex-combatants in Colombia discussed at UN meeting

Lessons To Be Learnt From Colombia’s Economic Reintegration Programs

A successful peace agreement does not guarantee lasting peace. The successful reintegration of ex-combatants back into society, while it does not guarantee lasting peace, is essential if peace is to stay. Afghanistan is at a crucial moment in its history. If a peace agreement is negotiated, ex-Taliban fighters must be reintegrated back into Afghan society. This will be achieved by implementing a sound reintegration project. Afghanistan might find success by looking at what other countries have done in the past. In particular, Columbia and its economic reintegration programs that have been implemented in recent years. 

Economic Reintegration In Colombia

Decades of war has led to several cease-fire agreements between the Colombian government and its guerrillas and paramilitaries. As a result, there have been demobilisation efforts which have resulted in the need for reintegration programs. During President Alvaro Uribe’s presidency, the economic programs that were created were centred around the integrity of the free market. Thus, the government had a program whereby ex-combatants would receive a 1.5 million Colombian Pesos (COP) grant to start their own businesses or to invest in housing or education. However, the program was not as successful as the government hoped. The grant allowed the ex-combatants to start their own businesses, but it did not prevent them from experiencing severe income insecurity. Moreover, the Colombian government, in the early stages of reintegration, seemed to put more stock into entrepreneurial programs.

Entrepreneurship In Colombia

Alongside the grant program, the government implemented an entrepreneurial program that gave ex-combatants a one-time 8 million pesos (COP) seed capital. The idea was for the recipients of this capital to invest and create their businesses. This program was a success for some but not all. The main problem stemmed from the fact that the ex-combatants simply did not have the entrepreneurial skills necessary to run a business. The government then shifted its focus away from entrepreneurial programs to employability programs.

The 2010 Law of Formalization and Job Creation (Ley 1429) marks this shift. Ley 1429 gave businesses incentives to hire ex-combatants partaking in reintegration programs by granting them a tax exemption. Despite the government’s attempts to increase employability through vocational training and Ley 1429, there has not been an increase in employment opportunities. Even those that are employed earn less than minimum wage. With some ex-combatants earning less than COP 200,000 per month. Moreover, there is wide stigma that prevents ex-combatants from finding and keeping jobs. Although these programs have not had wide-reaching success, there are a fair number of individuals that have benefitted and succeeded through these programs.  

Entrepreneurial programs should only be implemented for those that possess the sufficient entrepreneurial skills necessary to run a business. The Afghan government, if it intends to implement these types of programs, should provide individuals with entrepreneurial training. It should also implement a loan-based program that should run parallel to any grants that they might provide. If Afghanistan is to implement a loan program, it must supply the individuals with loan management training. Businesses that are created must also fill a need in the community.   

How Can Afghanistan Learn From Colombia?

The Colombian government failed, in the early days of the reintegration process, to prevent the stigma of ex-combatants by the Colombian society. This complicated the reintegration process and made economic reintegration programs less effective. Businesses did not want to hire ex-combatants for fear of being publicly judged. Thus, there was a lack of employment opportunities and the vocational training they received did not increase their employability. The stigma that ex-combatants faced in Colombia will likely be faced by ex-Taliban members and this must be taken into account before implementing an economic reintegration plan. By building trust between ex-Taliban members and the wider Afghan community through community-based programs. 

The Afghan government should also make sure that it provides ex-combatants with adequate vocational training. Which covers a wide variety of skills and professions. However, the training should reflect the community’s needs in order to prevent a lack of employment opportunities. It would be pointless to provide ex-combatants with training for professions that are not in high demand.   

Moreover, Afghanistan should create programs that provide reintegration assistance to ex-Taliban members with disabilities. If not, these individuals run the risk of being excluded and they will be less likely to reap the benefits that untailored reintegration programs will provide. 

Success will depend on the ability of the State to promote a more community-focused reintegration that focuses on both the social and economic aspects of reintegration.  

Rise to Peace