If the rise in violence this month is any mark of the year that is to be, then we can conclude that 2014 will turn out be an ominous year for Afghans. The winter season in Afghanistan, which tends to witness a reduction in fighting, has in fact faced a sharp rise in violence, shocking many in Afghanistan. In Kabul alone there have been several attacks, in and around the fortified diplomatic enclave, targeting both local and foreign security personnel, government and military installations. Many believe this to be a glimpse of what is yet to come, as Afghanistan gets ready to hold its third Presidential elections in April 2014.
US Lt General Mark Milley has predicted that this trend is likely to continue into 2014 with insurgents targeting. For many locals, this scenario has reinforced their anxieties concerning the prospects for 2014 being a pivotal year, marking the end of the security transition process, withdrawal of international troops, and handover of all political, security and development responsibilities to the Afghan leadership. While the challenges to peace and security are many, the solutions however are extremely limited and difficult to reach in the time-lines that have been set. One such mechanism has been the Afghan peace and reconciliation programme (or peace process) which was launched in 2010. This process envisioned political means to facilitate military measures for reconciliation and reintegration of insurgents through talks and negotiations. This process was to assist the security transition process and set the stage for the handover of all responsibilities from international to Afghan ownership by the end of 2014. However, the lack of achievements coupled with consistent setbacks and growing obstacles have done little to set the foundation needed to ensuring peace and stability post-2014. With the prospects for reaching a peace deal with the insurgency almost next to none, many are left wondering what to expect from it in the post-2014 period.
The Afghan peace process is a two-tiered initiative with a reintegration and a reconciliation pillar, both of which have been implemented simultaneously. The reintegration pillar has been implemented at the sub-national level where foot soldiers are enticed to reintegrate and take advantages of the financial incentives provided by the ‘Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme’. The reconciliation pillar on the other hand has been implemented at the national and regional levels where the Taliban leadership has been approached to participate in official channels of communication with the Afghan government in the hopes of starting a negotiation process that could lead to a peace deal. Thus far the Afghan government has been able to reintegrate 7,375 foot soldiers and local commanders, making reintegration a relatively successful programme, whereas reconciliation efforts have consistently hit roadblocks with no major achievements to date.
The Afghan government and its international partners have tried to win over the top tier of the insurgency by employing several trust-building mechanisms. These include the release of Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government, removal of UN sanctions and blacklist against former Taliban members, the creation of a political address for senior-level Taliban commanders for their participation in mainstream politics, allowing representatives of the insurgency to participate in track II meetings abroad, offering Taliban and other armed groups non-elected positions and opportunities to be included into the power structure of the state. In response, the Taliban have increased their attacks across Afghanistan, continued to engage in indiscriminate killings of civilians as reflected in the spike in civilian casualties observed in 2013 which marked the second highest recorded year since 2001, targeted killings of Afghan government officials including the High Peace Council members, parliamentarians, and Afghan National Security Forces, continued implementation of their draconian laws in areas under their influence, refusal to enter peace talks with the Afghan government whom they still refer to as a puppet regime which has sustained their inflexibility in accepting the ‘red-lines’ for entering negotiations (which include accepting the Afghan Constitution and breaking ties with international terrorists groups including al Qaeda). While many experts will argue that the Taliban have shown a steady willingness to negotiate over the years, their actions however continue to denote another tone.
It remains highly doubtful that the Afghan government and its international backers will strike a peace deal with the Taliban before 2014 or even in the immediate post-2014 environment for that matter. This is not surprising considering that in the past five years the Afghan government and the international community have been largely unsuccessful, and that such efforts have become ever more daunting as the security transition process enters its last tranche and the international community is set to withdraw by the end of 2014 irrespective of the scenario that emerges between the Afghan government and the insurgency by the end of this year. At the current juncture, ground realities continue to display the Taliban to be in a position of strength, a trend that has been strengthened, instead of weakened, by the peace process.