Wednesday, March 14, 2018 1:00 am
Heavy lifting remains on Afghanistan peace plan
Bloomberg View Editorial
After nearly 17 years of fighting, it is clear that the war in Afghanistan has no military solution at a price either the country or its partners is willing to pay. So President Ashraf Ghani is right to have made a far-reaching peace offer to the Taliban.
That said, if this latest effort is to avoid the sorry fate of its predecessors, Ghani has work to do.
The main task for him and Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive in Afghanistan's shaky unity government, is to bolster the legitimacy of Afghan democracy by setting a firm (and realistic) date for long-delayed parliamentary and local council elections.
Afghanistan's partners can support this move by pushing (and helping to pay for) fixes to the country's voter registry, which is also essential for next year's presidential elections.
As for the Taliban, only those factions that are willing to renounce violence, join the political process and honor the constitutional rights of all Afghans deserve a place at the table. This is nonnegotiable, as Ghani has said. And even if the Taliban spurns Ghani's offer, he has regained the initiative after the Taliban's clumsy effort to seize it.
That effort consisted of a rambling open letter last month calling on the American people to pressure President Donald Trump to end the war – an overture that the U.S. and Afghanistan rejected because it sidestepped Ghani's government.
The U.S. needs to step up its diplomacy to achieve a settlement, both in foreign capitals and in Afghanistan. Post-Benghazi, restrictive security rules have cocooned U.S. diplomats in their Kabul compound, limiting their ability to understand what's happening on the ground. They need to be allowed to do their jobs, which are inherently dangerous.
More broadly, persuading Pakistan to cut off its support for the Taliban will require a well-considered mix of sticks and carrots, and high-level engagement with neighbors such as China and India.
And no solution is possible without the cooperation of Russia and Iran, which have exploited Afghanistan's divisions to advance their own strategic goals.
That kind of diplomacy may call for some unsavory linkages and difficult trade-offs. Ghani has acknowledged as much, at least implicitly, with his offer of a cease-fire and negotiations.
He also said he'd be willing to accept the Taliban as a political organization, let it open an office in Kabul, release prisoners, and work to lift sanctions on individual Taliban members.
The Taliban continues to kill civilians, and experience shows it's wise to be skeptical about its intentions. The U.S. strategy of airstrikes and troops remains sound. But a U.S. troop surge did not end the Taliban insurgency half a decade ago, and more bombings and boots on the ground are unlikely to end it now.
A political settlement is the only real path to lasting peace.