Afghan Peace Accord and its implications for Pakistan

06 Apr, 1999    ·   180

Adnan Sattar analyses the problem and prospects of the Ashkabad Agreement between the Taliban and its north based opponents, and its implications for Pakistan

The Ashkabad Agreement: As the dust settles on the painfully brokered Ashkhabad Accord, doubts have being raised about the success of the talks initiated at the Turkeman capital. In a surprise move, the Taliban militia which rules 90 per cent of the country,  agreed last month to form a joint government with its north-based opponents, who barely rule 10 per cent of the country. The two sides agreed to form a shared executive, legislature and judiciary. However, neither side was ready to lay down arms and agree to a cease-fire.



It seems the Taliban are eager to break out of their isolation. The recent peace initiative is seen as an attempt on it’s part to obtain recognition from foreign governments and find a respectable slot in the comity of nations. Some observers are of the view that the Taliban's recent reconciliatory stance is the outcome of last years's US airstrikes on alleged terrorist camps in Afghanistan .



Problems and Prospects : The Ashkabad Agreement was termed a breakthrough because the Taliban had never conceded a power sharing arrangement with its rivals is essential for peace. There are many stumbling blocks in the way. First, there is no consensus on the structure of the organs of government. Second, smaller parties and ethnic groups will also ask for their share of the cake. This might open a Pandora's box of demands. The complexity of these relationships places insurmountable obstacles in the way of achieving a peaceful settlement of the Afghan conflict. These problems and pitfalls notwithstanding, the peace process must not be allowed to derail. The swapping of prisoners as envisaged in the accord, could help cool down tensions and bring a cease-fire closer.



It is heartening to note that both the Taliban, and former defence minister Ahmed Shah Masood, who leads the opposition to the movement, have indicated a willingness to continue the peace process even as fresh fighting broke out on front line 25 km north of Kabul, in central Bamiyan province  and elsewhere. The other factions of the so-called " Northern Alliance " consisting of remnants of Dostum's Jumbash-i-Milli and three factions of the Shia Hizbi-i- Wahdat are riven by mistrust and rivalries.



Implications for Pakistan : The Peace Accord has its implications for Pakistan , both externally and internally. Externally, Tehran has repeatedly come down on Islamabad for its alleged support to the Taliban regime. The Taliban's ascendance to power has generated serious fears in Iran , which is concerned about the plight of Shiite Hazaras in Central Afghanistan who form 20 per cent of the total population. Its main grievances related to the murder of its diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif and the capture of Iranian nationals  stationed in Northern Afghanistan . The Sharif government's diplomatic wing has been active lately, trying to appease Iran , and allay its fears regarding Pakistan 's involvement in Afghan affairs. It seems the Taliban has also sensed the dangers inherent in provoking Iran , and have given high priority to mending fences with that country. Even the Central Asian Republics have been wary of the rise of the Taliban and have been raising their concerns with Pakistan . The CAR governments fear a fundamentalist spillover into their territories which are home to a sizable Muslim population. Pakistan ’s economic interests in the CARs and its political interests in Iran make it vital that Pakistan should try to bring this peace accord into reality. One big cause for optimism is the fact that both Iran and Pakistan , as well as the Central Asian countries, have voiced their support for the Ashkabad agreement.



Internally, there are many in Pakistan , who profoundly regret the repercussions of the country's involvement in the Afghan war. They argue that Pakistan should cease its attempts to influence events in Afghanistan and give priority to a peaceful settlement. The advocates for increased trade with Central Asia and for the constructions of pipelines also want to see an end to the ongoing conflict. Secondly, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism inside Pakistan is a direct fallout of the continuing Afghan crisis. In fact, many in Pakistan fear that events in Afghanistan will lead to a Talibanisation of Pakistan. Thirdly, a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan will result in the Afghan refugees returning to their home. At present, there are more than 1.2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan presenting social, economic, political and environmental threats to the security of Pakistan .



Thus it would be in Pakistan ’s interests to solve the crisis in Afghanistan . However, those with interests in drug trafficking or smuggling will have other agendas and may favour continuing instability in the region.