On 8 October, US President Donald Trump tweeted that US troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The tweeted message indicates the pressure that the US presidential election scheduled for 3 November generates. President Trump would like to show his supporters that he has delivered on his promise of bringing US troops back from Afghanistan.
In practical terms, bringing home all the troops from Afghanistan by year-end is not possible, as the security installations erected there since 2002 have to be dismantled and disassembled. In contrast, the US-Taliban deal, which was concluded on 29 February 2020 in Doha and declares that foreign forces would leave Afghanistan by May 2021, provides a more feasible date. Three main points were agreed upon in the Doha Accord: the Afghan Taliban would maintain a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire; that they would enter into an intra-Afghan dialogue with the Kabul regime to devise a power-sharing formula; and they would not let any militant organisation (such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State) use Afghanistan to launch attacks on foreign lands, including the US. The caveat was that in case of non-compliance with the terms of the accord, the US would not withdraw its forces from Afghanistan.
The Doha Accord exploited the Afghan Taliban’s desire to rid Afghanistan of foreign forces. Since February, they have observed restraint and implemented a ceasefire by not attacking the US forces, but continued attacks sporadically on Kabul’s forces and on certain civilian establishments, including hospitals.
An intra-Afghan dialogue began in March with the main focus on exchanging up to six thousand prisoners, as agreed in the Doha Accord. Five thousand of those prisoners were released by the Kabul regime, albeit reluctantly. Nevertheless, the prisoner exchange was the first step towards confidence-building. The next step was to devise a plausible power-sharing formula.
According to the Doha accord, the US committed itself to withdrawing its forces within fourteen months. To show its intent, in the first four months, the US reduced its forces from around 12,000 to 8,600 troops. Over the next ten months, the withdrawal was gradual, but persistent, and continued until there are now around 5,000 US troops in Afghanistan.
On 12 September, the much-awaited intra-Afghan dialogue on power sharing began in Doha. On the one hand, the Afghan Taliban refused to observe a cease-fire with the Kabul regime’s forces and, on the other hand, demanded the replacement of the Afghan Constitution of 2004 with a new constitution. The strength of the Afghan Constitution is that it guarantees the rights of religious minorities and women, and bestows upon the media and people the freedom of expression. Moreover, the constitution is federal promising a presidential system based on elections.
On the Afghan Constitution, which is an outcome of the Afghan Loya Jirga of 2002, the Afghan Taliban have raised two main objections. First, it is, in their opinion, an imported Western document that is incongruent with the realities and aspirations of Afghans. Apparently, the Afghan Taliban are averse to electoral democracy, freedom of expression and women’s rights. Second, it falls short of being an Islamic constitution and offers an insufficient role to religious authorities in Afghanistan. The Taliban fear that the influence of the West even through the constitution would make Afghan society not only secular but also disrespectful towards Islamic values and norms, no matter that the Constitution holds Islamic jurisprudence as the supreme law.
The Taliban demand that the current democratic system be replaced by an elite religious council that will select the country’s rulers and raise four objections to the existing system: the free media promotes moral turpitude; the banking system is un-Islamic and promotes usury; the education system is shorn of religious education; and national policies are formed without the advice of religious scholars. The Taliban claim, nevertheless, that they will construct an inclusive and comprehensive Islamic system of governance that encompasses all spheres of life.
During their previous rule (1996-2001), the concept of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was based on the norms and values of rural southern Afghanistan. Women were banned from working and seeking education. Punishments for crimes were pre-civilisational. From 2004 onward, the Kabul regime governed as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, represented the country democratically and transcended ethnic and sectarian boundaries. The Afghan Taliban, however, want to reverse that process and its concomitant gains. Kabul’s challenge is that Afghan society is conservative and the Afghan Taliban hail from the rural south of Afghanistan.
The Taliban are reluctant to accept the democratic ideals offered through constitutional amendments for two reasons: they cannot, through the democratic process, find parliamentary positions and they are not trained in constitutional norms and values. Additionally, they consider the electoral process a western system and the constitution a western document in disharmony with the version of Islam they espouse.
In Afghanistan, peace is a necessity and efforts are underway to make it a reality. Unfortunately, the Afghan Taliban themselves are not sufficiently enlightened as to recognise what the Constitution promises to Afghanistan in the long run.