Some Lessons from Colombia’s Peacemaking Process for Afghanistan

Some Lessons from Colombia’s Peacemaking Process for Afghanistan

Blog posts reflect the views of the authors and not those of AREU.

In December 2016, the Colombian government entered into a historic peace agreement with the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo), an ideological left-wing armed group, and ended a half a century conflict. Concerted efforts by national and international actors led to the success of the signing of the agreement. Thousands miles away, in Afghanistan, we are faced with another chronic 40-year conflict. The current phase of the Afghan conflict, that is the Taliban insurgency, started after the US intervention in 2001 that overthrew the Taliban’s theocratic regime and established a quasi-democratic system.

After 18 years of bloody war between the Afghan government (supported by the US) and the Taliban, stakeholders are now seeking a political solution. Rigorous negotiations are underway between the Taliban and the US, while the intra-Afghan dialogue is yet to begin. The question is: are there lessons from Colombia’s peacemaking process for Afghanistan? The two countries are distinct, with stark differences in the ideology of the two militant groups, the capability of governmental institutions, and the direct involvement of the US as a third party in the Afghan war. Nonetheless, Colombia’s peacemaking process offers lessons in areas such as the ripeness of the moment, creating regional and international consensus, having a manageable agenda, and an inclusive process.

The Ripe Moment

The “ripeness of the moment” is key to starting peace negotiations. This is when sides to a conflict have reached to a military stalemate and are “locked in a conflict from which they cannot escalate to victory.”[1] The Colombian government and the FARC-EP had reached a military stalemate and the moment for negotiations was ripe after half a century of conflict and past attempts to peacemaking. While the FARC-EP was in a weaker military position, a military victory against the FARC-EP was deemed impossible in the near future.[2] The amount of pain inflicted upon the Colombian society was immense. There are nearly 8.5 million victims of the armed conflict: about 7.5 million forced displacements, more than 260,000 dead, and over 45,000 disappearances.[3] These numbers do not include the thousands of others who have suffered from other form of violence such as the narco related deaths.

In Afghanistan, too, the moment is ripe: there is a military stalemate along with a great amount of pain inflicted upon the Afghan society. The number of casualties in the past four decades is much higher than in the Colombian context. Since the 1970s, the country has gone through the Soviet occupation, an armed insurgency between the communist regime and the mujahideen (holy warriors), the Afghan civil war between mujahideen factions, and now the Taliban insurgency. The death toll resulting from the Soviet invasion totals to over a million followed by thousands of casualties during the civil war.[4] Since 2009, as much as 100,000 civilians have been killed and injured.[5] This number does not include the losses of thousands of Afghan security and defense forces, the international troops, and the Taliban. The Taliban have vowed to continue to incite more violence during the upcoming elections, due in September 2019.

Regional and International Consensus

To a large extent, the international community played a positive role in Colombia’s peace process and there was an international consensus. Namely, Cuba and Norway, as guarantors, and Venezuela as the logistics facilitator, played especially important roles.[6] The United Nations constructively facilitated localized conversations about the prospects of peace and mobilized donors to fund peacebuilding projects. Meanwhile, regional support for left-leaning armed groups was in decline, which encouraged the FARC-EP to choose politics over militancy.

In Afghanistan, there is some degree of international consensus. Major stakeholders such as the US, Pakistan, China, Russia, and Iran, have said that they want a peaceful Afghanistan, but the challenge is that they want it in their own terms.[7] While Pakistan, as the main sponsors of the Taliban, has helped the US in the talks with the armed group, the fear is that Pakistan-India rivalry and complex US relations with regional actors could create obstacles to peace. There is also an international support for Islamist insurgency,[8] and like the FARC, the Taliban do not seem to shy away from funding their jihad through the narco-economy and support from sympathizers in the Islamic world.[9]

The international community needs to reach an agreement on Afghanistan with measures that can include:

  • For the international community, including the US, EU and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to diplomatically pressure and persuade Pakistan to play a positive role and does not let India-Pakistan rivalry sabotage the Afghan peace process;

  • For the US, China, Russia, and Iran, and other actors, to treat Afghanistan as an area of cooperation; and

  • For the Islamic countries to play a more proactive role in condemning violence in the name of religion and curbing insurgency financing.

A Manageable Agenda

A focused agenda that is centred on a few key issues is vital to starting peace negotiations.[10]  In Colombia, parties focused on creating an intensive agenda that included five main thematic areas: (1) comprehensive rural reform, (2) political participation, (3) ending the conflict — ceasefire and economic and social inclusion of the ex-combatants (4) tackling the illicit drug issue, and (5) the justice element of the deal.[11] In Afghanistan, the US-Taliban delegations have been working on a framework: (1) counterterrorism assurances by the Taliban, (2) withdrawal of the US troops, (3) initiation of the inter-Afghan dialogue, and (4) a permanent ceasefire. On the other hand, a framework between the Afghan political elite and the Taliban is missing. Although the past informal intra-Afghan dialogues such as the ones in Moscow and the most recent one on 7-8 July 2019, hosted by Germany and Qatar in Doha,[12] could assist in generating such an agenda.

The Afghan authorities maintain that the red line is the Constitution, which is based on Islamic jurisprudence[13] and guarantees rights for men, women, minorities, and a democratic system. However, the Taliban see the Constitution as one imposed by the Americans. They demand the annulment of the constitution and the reestablishment of the Islamic system, possibly the Islamic emirate. Colombia’s focused agenda was a product of compromise between the two sides that focused on addressing the root causes of the conflict. The government accepted to address underdevelopment and land dispossession issues.[14] In return, FARC-EP softened its positions from overthrowing the government and establishing a socialist system to securing a political status and development incentives for underdeveloped rural areas. While the Afghan government has shown some degree of flexibility by offering a ceasefire and recognizing the Taliban as a political group, the Taliban are yet to display compromises.

The Participatory Element

The peace agreement in Colombia is internationally considered to be inclusive in history.[15]Although Colombia’s peace talks started in secret in Cuba and with no more than six participants from each side,[16] space eventually opened for greater participation. Women represented 20% of the government’s delegation and 43% of the FARC-EP’s delegation in the negotiations.[17] In another instance, a total of 60 victims were invited to discuss the provisions of what is currently point 5 in the Final Agreement regarding the victims of the conflict, which includes the design of a transitional justice system.[18]

Drawing from Colombia’s experience, the number of delegates in the negotiations should be narrowed down to a few capable representatives, but it is vital that the victims and other groups including women and minorities are included in the process. The parties need to ensure the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) by tangibly including Afghan women in the negotiation table as well as a gendered approach. Additionally, Colombia held a plebiscite to gain domestic legitimacy but the “no camp” prevailed.[19] A referendum in Afghanistan, because of the lack of resources, of electoral capacity and of time, is not advisable.

Conclusion

There are clear socio-political differences between Afghanistan and Colombia: notably, Colombia being a Latin American Catholic majority country and Afghanistan an Asian Muslim majority country; there are ideological differences in the two insurgencies; Colombia having a relatively more functioning state, especially in the justice sector; the Colombian government being in a more stronger military position when negotiations with FARC-EP began; and the presence of the US military as a third party to the Afghan conflict. Nonetheless, lessons can be drawn from the similarities in the nature of the two conflicts and the process of peacemaking. In Afghanistan, parties should realize that the moment is ripe for making peace and a military solution. Secondly, stakeholders should see how an international consensus was created in Colombia and how that lesson can be replicated in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the international and external dimension of the conflict are equally important.  Thirdly, Afghanistan should determine a manageable agenda with goals to address the root causes of the conflict. Finally, stakeholders must ensure participation of a capable negotiating team that includes voices of women, minorities and the victims.

Said Sabir Ibrahimi is a Research Associate at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation working on Afghanistan project. In November 2018, Sabir was a Visiting Scholar to AREU in Kabul. Sabir holds a Bachelor’s in Political Science from Fairleigh Dickenson University, New Jersey, and a Master’s in Global Affairs from New York University. He has also worked with a number of non-governmental organizations in Kabul.

Marta Bautista Forcada has graduated with a Master’s degree in Global Affairs from New York University. She has worked for several non-profit organizations including Amnesty International and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). While working at NYU’s Peace Research and Education Program (PREP), she conducted peace field-research in Algeciras, Colombia, studying the perceptions of the 2016 peace agreement among FARC-EP ex-combatants. Bautista holds a Bachelor’s in Political Science from University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain.

[1] The Timing of Peace Initiatives: Hurting Stalemates and Ripe Moments1 I William Zartman, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/TimingofPeaceInitiatives_Zartman2001.pdf

[2] Segura, Renata, and Mechoulan, Delphine. 2017. Made in Havana: How Colombia and the FARC Decided to End the War. New York: International Peace Institute, February 2017.

[3] Unidad para la Atención y Reparación Integral a las Víctimas. 2019. Reporte General Desagregado por Hecho. [ONLINE] Available here: https://cifras.unidadvictimas.gov.co/Home/General [Accessed 6 June 2019]

[4] The Atlantic. 2014. The Soviet War in Afghanistan, 1979 – 1989. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/08/the-soviet-war-in-afghanistan-1979-1989/100786/. [Accessed 19 May 2019].

[5] UNAMA. 2018. Afghanistan Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: 2018. [ONLINE] Available at: https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/unama_annual_protection_of_civilians_report_2018_-23_feb_2019-_english.pdf. [Accessed 19 May 2019].

[6] Segura, Renata, and Mechoulan, Delphine. 2017. Made in Havana: How Colombia and the FARC Decided to End the War. New York: International Peace Institute, February 2017.

[7] Rubin, Barnett. Everyone Wants A Piece of Afghanistan. Foreign Policy. March 2019. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/03/11/everyone-wants-a-piece-of-afghanistan-russia-china-un-sco-pakistan-isi-qatar-saudi-uae-taliban-karzai-ghani-khalilzad-iran-india/

[8]The New York Times. 2019. Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/world/asia/saudi-arabia-afghanistan.html. [Accessed 10 July 2019].

[9] Politico. 2019. The secret story of how America lost the drug war with the Taliban. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/08/obama-afghanistan-drug-war-taliban-616316. [Accessed 10 July 2019].

[10] Pillar, Paul R. Negotiating Peace: War Termination as a Bargaining Process. Princeton University Press, 1983. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztnt0.

[11] Benavides Vanegas, Farid Samir, and Borda Guzmán, Sandra. 2019. Introduction: The Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP, or the elusive peace. Revista CIDOB d’Afers Internacionals, n.121, p. 7-18. April 2019. [ONLINE] Available: https://www.cidob.org/es/content/download/72826/2343501/…/AFERS%20121.pdf [Accessed May 31, 2019]

[12] France 24. 2019. Afghan-Taliban talks conclude in Qatar with ‘roadmap for peace’. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.france24.com/en/20190709-afghanistan-taliban-talks-qatar-roadmap-peace. [Accessed 10 July 2019].

[13] Haress, Ghizaal. Why the Taleban Should Read the Afghan Constitution. Afghanistan Analyst Network. https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/why-the-taleban-should-read-the-afghan-constitution/?fbclid=IwAR2hggXQ-BNBeIZsBZioUAcuA_IHmPPGhaq1By8kk2HTvced9y0UlntikNQ

[14] Herbolzheimer, Kristian. 2016 Innovations in the Colombian Peace Process. Oslo: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center, June 2016. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.c-r.org/downloads/NOREF_CR_Report_Colombia%20Innovations_final.pdf [Accessed May 31, 2019]

[15] Catalina Ruiz-Navarro. 2019. Analysis: The inclusion of a gender perspective in Colombia’s peace Agreement: past, present, and future. Relifweb. [ONLINE] Available at: https://reliefweb.int/report/colombia/feminist-peace-colombia [Accessed June 4, 2019]

[16] Ibid.

[17] Bigio, Jamille; Vogelstein, Rachel B. 2017. Women’s Participation in Peace Processes: Colombia. Council on Foreign Relations. December 15, 2017. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.cfr.org/blog/womens-participation-peace-processes-colombia [Accessed June 6, 2019]

[18] Herbolzheimer, Kristian. 2016 Innovations in the Colombian Peace Process. Oslo: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center, June 2016. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.c-r.org/downloads/NOREF_CR_Report_Colombia%20Innovations_final.pdf [Accessed May 31, 2019]

[19] BBC Mundo. Colombia: Ganó el “No” en el Plebiscito por los Acuerdos de Paz con las FAC. [ONLINE] Available: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-37537187 [Accessed July 11, 2019]



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