Afghan peace moves reminiscent of Najibullah's failed efforts
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Issue Courtesy: South Asia Monitor | Date : 04 Jan , 2019

Recent efforts by the international community, with the United States in the lead, are motivating the Afghan government to push for peace talks and reconciliation with the Taliban. The Afghan government established the “High Peace Council” to Afghanize this process. For the first time, Taliban are sitting at a table to negotiate post-peace conditions. But they have not shown any real signs or desire for peace. The scenario is similar to when former President Najibullah was in power back in 1992. 

After the fall of the monarchy, Najibullah established a new system, similar to parliamentary democracy. With Najibullah assuming power, Russian forces, facing heavy economic and human losses and under pressure from the international community, including the UN, had to withdraw from Afghanistan, having failed to establish a stable government to oversee their agenda in the region. Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan had several factors: S. Newel wrote, “They would be in a position to restrict the American role in the Middle East, probe the chronically unstable political situations in Iran and Pakistan, and gain concessions from intimidated oil states.” 

When Najibullah assumed power, he tried involving the mujahideen and jihadi groups in reconciliation programs Russia withdrew its troops. However, those plans did not work for several reasons: First, Pakistan’s role was crucial since all these jihadi groups had their headquarters in Pakistan, from where all funds came. Secondly, Najibullah was regarded as a Russian agent, accused of killing mujahids when he headed KHAD, the dreaded Afghan intelligence agency. So, accepting Najibullah’s government meant their “holy war” against Russia would have been a waste. Thirdly, Najibullah was an ethnic Pashtun, as were most of his cabinet members. The mujahids wanted to challenge Pashtun domination and mobilized non-Pashtun groups to end Pashtun domination in the country. He also faced opposition from his top military officials, who staged a coup. 

The coup failed but threatened the regime from within and some of his military commanders, like General Dostum, currently first Vice President of Afghanistan, and General Baba Jan revolted against him and joined forces with the mujahideen, leading to the collapse of the regime and Najibullah’s death. 

Factionalism was the main reason for his regime’s collapse, rather than pressure from the opposition groups outside the regime or Soviet withdrawal. The collapse of the Najibullah regime saw the rise of Islamic parties which fought each other over power-sharing for four years until the emergence of the Taliban, considered to be students of Madrasas of Pakistan. 

Now, too, there are many parties operating from Pakistan, like Hizb-i-Islami (Islamic party) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; the Jamiat-i-Islami (Islamic society); Ittihad-i-Islami (Islamic unity) led by Rasul Sayyaf;; the Mahaz Milli Islami (NIFA, the National Islamic front of Afghanistan) led by Syed Ahmed Gailani; Jabha-i—Nijat-i-Milli (National salvation front) and Harkat-e-Inqilabi-Islami (Movement of the Islamic revolution). They could not bridge their political differences then and it is unlikely they will arrive at an acceptable consensus now. 

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan destroyed the country. Millions of people died, were displaced and disabled. People were hoping for a stable Afghanistan with the victory of mujahedin, but their struggles for power led to many more casualties and violence in the country. 

Barbara Walter, an American journalist, wrote about causes for the continuation of civil wars, which, she said, “can be divided into four broad categories (1) historical hatreds, namely, groups fight because they hate each other and have no desire to cooperate; (2) conflicts of interest in which groups fighting for control of a single state inevitably encounter conflicts of interest that are difficult to reconcile; (3) greedy elites, that is, stubborn, threatened, or self-interested leaders often with little to lose by continuing to fight; and (4) security dilemmas in which fear and uncertainty during the war can ultimately sabotage cooperation efforts and perpetuate violence”. 

Ethnic violence has always existed in the history of Afghanistan where each ethnic group wants its hegemony over others by taking absolute control of the state. Most of these groups have been fighting because otherwise, with their limited knowledge of governance and administration, they would have no place in the government. 

The international community’s role is important in all these wars, but in 1996 they did not want to end the war. Similarly today, prospects for peace in Afghanistan are poor. Peace can come only if the various Afghan groups agree to a power-sharing formula and honour their agreement. Taliban do not appear ready for such a compromise now, even though the Afghan government is ready. 

The will of regional powers is also vital to the peace process. Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia can play a central role in bringing peace to Afghanistan and the region as a whole, but seems that now they do not have a true will. The international community, including the US, can play an important role, but they must remain seriously engaged and use their influence to promote peace in Afghanistan. 

Afghans are today experiencing the same situation, at the end of which they will remain the victims. Given all these factors, Afghan suffering is likely to continue.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Majidullah Rasooli

is a strategy and policy analyst at the Ministry of National Defence, Kabul, Afghanistan.

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