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Afghan peace deal, but at what cost?

Masood Saifullah | Shamil Shams Munich
February 15, 2020

The West appears to be making many concessions to the Taliban to forge a peace deal. Do they also involve a compromise on fundamental human rights? DW talks to the head of Friedrich-Ebert Foundation in Afghanistan.

Afghan women walk in a park designated for women
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Berry

DW: A peace deal between the US and the Taliban seems imminent. What impact will it have on Afghanistan?

Magdalena Kirchner: A US-Taliban agreement can pave the way for a meaningful and sustainable intra-Afghan dialogue. At the same time, it will all be meaningless if the possible deal leads to security deterioration in the country.

The US and the Taliban, as well as the Afghan government, have signaled a commitment to intra-Afghan negotiations and a political solution, but it remains unclear whether the dynamics will change after a deal between the US and the Taliban is signed.

It is also possible that many parties to the conflict will resort to violence immediately after the deal is sealed. In that case, we will see a similar situation to the 1990s Afghan civil war.

Read more: Munich Security Conference: Afghan peace deal 'closer than ever'

Magdalena Kirchner is the country director of Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (Foundation) in Afghanistan.​​​
Magdalena Kirchner is the country director of Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (Foundation) in Afghanistan​Image: Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik

Will a deal make it difficult for international human rights organizations to work in Afghanistan? What kind of challenges are you expecting?

It will certainly become more challenging. The security situation is already limiting our reach beyond Kabul. But it could also force international organizations to invest more in the training and capacity building of the local staff.

People often ask us how we plan to preserve the achievements that we have made in the past two decades in Afghanistan. I believe that we need to put out all these issues during the intra-Afghan dialogue.

We are committed to upholding our values and expect that these would be a part of discussions. It is up to Afghan decision-makers to ensure that all Afghans benefit from democracy, the freedom of speech and women's rights.

Read more: US announces 7-day partial truce with Taliban

What should the US and Afghan authorities not compromise on for the sake of a peace deal?

We saw in Syria that the principles become useless if you can't defend them, and if you are not in the driving seat. I am concerned that many countries, which prefer stability over a meaningful peace, will pursue a post-deal policy of containment and not an active engagement with Afghanistan.

I believe that many international negotiators are trying to convince those sitting on the fence that a peace agreement should not compromise on human rights. But who is in a position to promise that amid so much uncertainty? Is there any compromise that can guarantee peace? I don't think so. Maybe we should talk more about what Afghans can gain from a peace deal rather than focusing on things that we can lose.

It is also unrealistic to think that there could be one big compromise that will be acceptable to all Afghans. A post-deal Afghanistan will remain diverse and divided, therefore we should take the peace process as an opportunity for Afghanistan's formal and informal political institutions to mature and be able to solve conflicts in a non-violent manner.

Read more: High death toll in Afghanistan reconstruction efforts

Can Western countries, including Germany, justify their potential help to a future Afghan government with the Taliban holding key positions?

Many people see negotiations with the Taliban as an act of betrayal, especially with regard to the rights of women and minorities. Thes people have always opposed Germany's military role in Afghanistan and will certainly not support a bigger involvement. But I think that the failure to defeat the Taliban militarily and politically has made people more pragmatic. It can be argued that a deal with the Taliban is the only path to stabilization.

Read more: Germany: Silent mediator of peace efforts around the world

What role can Germany play during and after the peace process?

There is a desire for a significant German role during and after the peace process. Germany is a major donor to Afghanistan and has developed strong relations with the government and different opposition parties in the past years. Germany is considered neutral by many Afghans and is certainly better positioned than many other countries.

At the same time, Germany cannot isolate itself from the developments in and around Afghanistan. Migration remains one of the most divisive issues in Germany since the 2015 refugee crisis. Berlin can come up with a real strategy for the post-deal Afghanistan. Also, Kabul will need a strong German and European commitment during this process. The upcoming German EU presidency could be a great opportunity to achieve these goals.

Read more: US-Taliban talks are back on, Donald Trump says in Afghanistan

Magdalena Kirchner is the country director of Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (Foundation), a German think-tank, in Afghanistan.

US-Taliban talks: Afghan women worried about their future