The Conservative Friends of Afghanistan (CFA) organized a virtual panel discussion on NATO and Afghanistan Peace Process on 10th November 2020. The event was moderated by Stephanie Glinski, a freelance journalist based in Kabul and attended by Stefano Pontecorvo, the NATO Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan; Hosna Jalil, Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister of Interior Affairs (Strategy and Policy); Shabnam Nasimi, Founder and Director of CFA; Ronald Neumann, Former United States Ambassador to Afghanistan; and Saad Mohseni, Chairman and Chief Executive of MOBY Group. This virtual discussion was hold in order to explore NATO’s diplomatic and military strategy for Afghanistan, regional dynamics of instability, the implementation of the agreement between the US and the Taliban for the withdrawal of troops and prospective for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Glinski embarked on the program by providing background knowledge on the current socio-political situation on the ground in Afghanistan, reiterating that insecurity and violence have hugely escalated in the country and there is fear of a civil strife. Subsequent to that, panelists were asked to share their perspectives about best case scenarios if the Afghan peace process succeeds and worst case scenarios, if the peace talks fail. Stefano Pontecorvo, stated that if the peace talks succeed, resultantly Afghanistan will be a peaceful and stable country, though ‘a bit more Islamic’ and he avoided to speculate any worst case scenario. Shabnam Nasimi, shared the same view for the best case scenario, but warned of a civil strife if the talks fail to lead to a peace deal. Ambassador Neumann, however, stated that there cannot be an abstract speculation and in both cases, there are numerous variable involved which may or may not lead to a peaceful Afghanistan. Mr. Mohseni, shared the same concern about a full-on civil war if the process fails and he said that if the peace process succeeds, the Afghan people may probably have to compromise their some of their values and freedoms, such as women’s rights and freedom of expression. Hosna Jalil’s response for the best case scenario was a proportional ceasefire which will lay the ground for peace at social level and economic development. Ms. Jalil, flagged her concern of bloodier war, if the Afghan peace process fails.
Subsequently, in response to Glinski’s question ‘how NATO’s military and diplomatic strategy for Afghanistan will go further?’ Ambassador Pontecorvo said that NATO’s strategy for Afghanistan is ‘pretty straight-forward’ as it is abiding by the peace deal between the US and the Taliban and NATO’s retreat will be conditions-based. Going further, he also reiterated that NATO remains committed to assisting the Afghan armed forces as NATO is in favor of ‘a credible military and security structure’ in Afghanistan.
In terms of the future of the US involvement in Afghanistan, Ambassador Neumann said that currently there is an enormous uncertainty around the US policy towards Afghanistan as the current US administration will be biding adieu in two and half months. Further, he criticized the conditions-based withdrawal rhetoric as he stated that the US has dismantled its credibility by downsizing its military presence given conditions have not been favorable. According to Ambassador Neumann, the new US administration led by Joe Biden will consume sometime to do a policy review and figure out what should be done next in Afghanistan. In the meantime, he said that the Biden administration will be facing a contradictory dichotomy of safeguarding human rights in Afghanistan and responding to ‘the desire to leave.’ Elaborating on the new US administration’s take on Afghanistan, Ambassador Neumann said that there will be ‘a substantial delay’ from the new administration to come up with a clear policy towards Afghanistan as for the time being, the new administration has a long list of priorities. As result, he added, there will be an increase in violence from the Taliban, and in the meantime, Taliban will not be making any major concessions.
In response to Glinski’s question about Afghan government’s measures to prevent and reduce violence in Afghanistan, DM Jalil said that Taliban are not adhering to their commitments of reducing violence, and as result and especially after the attack on Kabul University, the Afghan military has moved out its active defense policy. And she believes that active defense mode will no longer work as the Taliban have leveled up the war and violence.
Subsequently, Mr. Mohseni criticized the Afghan government of being far divided than the Taliban and he added that the Afghan police force is highly corrupt and incompetent. Given that, he added that if the US makes a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, ‘there will be no US embassy in Kabul’ and no assistance to ANDSF will be possible without US troops on the ground. He added that the current Afghan government itself has been very antagonistic towards the Afghan media and the situation will be far worst under any possible Taliban reign.
Following that, Ms. Nasimi said that with a complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, without any guarantee for peace, given that the Afghan army is barely able to operate on their own, will lead to state failure. She added that despite a massive international support, violence and civilian causalities are rising in the country and this has prompted more Afghans to flee the country to neighboring countries and to Europe. Furthermore, Ms. Nasimi said that the international community’s approach to state building in Afghanistan has been a failure since the Afghan political system is not inclusive and for a prosperous Afghanistan, there is a severe need for profound changes in the Afghan constitution and the current political system.
Later in the event, in terms of the Taliban prisoners release, Ambassador Pontecorvo said that he does not believe that the prisoners release has directly contributed to the rising violence in Afghanistan, though he believes it might have boosted Taliban’s confidence. On the other side, Ambassador Neumann stated that the release was controversial since the Afghan government was not involved in the deal between the US and the Taliban that demanded release of Taliban prisoners. He added that the US government should put an end to the cycle of pressurizing the Afghan government to make concessions to the Taliban since ‘it is a way to negotiate a surrender, not a way to negotiate a peace.’ Adding to this part of the discussion, DM Jalil called the Taliban prisoners release ‘too rushed.’
Answering to a question posed by audience (virtual) in the discussion, Ambassador Pontocorvo stated that the fact that this war in Afghanistan is not winnable has pushed the Taliban to the negotiation table. He also added that NATO believes that the Taliban has not the capacity to win the war on ANDSF --- and he reiterated that ‘the peace talks are not to hand over the country to the Taliban, but they are to bring peace in Afghanistan.’ Adding to that, Ms. Nasimi said that tackling the widespread corruption in the Afghan government should become a priority since the humongous corruption is negatively affecting the ANDSF’s capabilities to stand against the Taliban. Adding to this discussion, Mr. Mohseni praised the Afghan army capabilities and especially the special forces, but he called the local police ‘a disaster.’
In terms of an international attention to Afghanistan, whether it is there or has eroded, Ambassador Neumann stated that unfortunately, there are no more major attentions to Afghanistan since foreign troops have drawn down from the country. He also added that the only way for the government in order to keep the international support is to improve its performance.
The discussion ended by Glinski’s closing remarks as she thanked the distinguished panelists and the audience for joining the discussion. This discussion is available at: https://youtu.be/lahhxFcF25I
Written by Humaira Rahbin -- Political Communications Officer at the Conservative Friends of Afghanistan.