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Opinion: Fatal flaw to peace package in Afghanistan

The peace package that emerged from London Conference is doomed to fail, unless Kabul can get a monopoly on violence.

Gichi’s ad-hoc irregular army is only one example of the complexity of the conflict in Afghanistan. Similar irregular armies are known to operate elsewhere in the country. In Baghlan province, to the south of Qunduz, Commander Mirwais is running an irregular army fighting both the Taliban and the Kabul administration. Afghan security forces recently distributed arms to the local population, encouraging them to bring Mirwais’ men under control but the young men decided to join the commander instead. The loyalties of irregular armies are unpredictable and can shift in reaction to the situation.

As the cases of Qalay Zal and Baghlan illustrate, the balance of power is presently in their favor but not the government’s. The government in fact is increasingly relying on militias to fight the Taliban for Kabul. More recently, the U.S. government offered the Shinwari tribe in eastern Afghanistan a package of $1 million in development aid in return for taking up arms against the Taliban. The tribe accepted the offer, but their joining the conflict is likely to further complicate the situation.

An array of armed militias and irregular armies are figthing the Taliban in different parts of the country but none of the armed groups is under Kabul’s command. This is a serious problem because the fight against the Taliban lacks a central command, and the peace deal only represents one side of the conflict.

The peace package offered to the Taliban at the London Conference has international support and is widely regarded as a probable solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. But its basic premise is flawed — that is, that the conflict boils down to two, clear sides, the Afghan government and its NATO allies versus the Taliban. In reality, the Kabul administration represents only the weakest of all Taliban opponents.

For the peace offer to work, Afghanistan needs a strong central government with a monopoly of violence. Presently, Kabul not only lacks a monopoly of violence, but also the violence is being further diffused with the militarization of independent tribes in eastern border regions. Judging from this complex reality on the ground, the peace package’s chances of success are minimal.

Nushin Arbabzadah is a former BBC journalist and currently a visiting scholar at UCLA.