Dawn Editorial with topic background, Vocabulary (April 26, 2021)
IN the backdrop of the postponed Istanbul peace talks on Afghanistan — put off for the time being because the Afghan Taliban refused to attend — the foreign ministers of Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan have issued a call to the armed group not to let this opportunity pass them by.
Speaking under the banner of the ‘Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan trilateral,’ the trio called on all parties, “in particular the Taliban” to reaffirm their commitment to the peace process. The Taliban had said they would not be participating in the Istanbul meeting, which was scheduled for this month, until all foreign forces leave their country, referring to the American decision to delay the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan till September. The Turkish foreign minister said the meeting would likely be convened after Eid.
The fact of the matter is that the Taliban are an integral part of the Afghan puzzle, and without their participation the peace process is unlikely to succeed. The Western-backed government in Kabul, supported by Nato’s firepower, has tried to defeat the militia for decades militarily, and has not achieved encouraging results. Therefore, the only way out of the Afghan quagmire is a negotiated settlement in which all stakeholders — political, tribal, ethnic, religious — have representation. However, the Taliban must realise that while they have managed to survive for around 20 years, a war without an end will do little to pull their people out of misery and poverty. Even more virulent actors, such as the local chapter of the militant Islamic State group, are ready to grab ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan to implement their violent agendas. Therefore, to end the ‘forever war’, Afghan stakeholders need to show vision and maturity.
As has been suggested previously in these columns, other regional Muslim states must support Pakistan’s and Turkey’s efforts to convince the Taliban to attend the Istanbul peace process. Moreover, the three foreign ministers in their statement reiterated the need for an immediate ceasefire to create “a conducive atmosphere” for peace parleys, while they also deplored the high level of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
From here on, the burden is on the Taliban: they can either prolong the decades-long Afghan nightmare, or they can choose to participate in the peace process and arrive at a compromise with their rivals to help usher in an era of stability in their country. Foreign adventurers — from the Soviets to the Americans — have played a major role in destabilising Afghanistan. But now it is for the main Afghan players, specifically the government in Kabul and the Taliban, to take responsibility for their country and help start the process of rebuilding. If whatever little semblance of order that remains in Afghanistan collapses, the worst sufferers will be the people of that country who have watched a variety of local and foreign actors play violent power games in their beleaguered land.
Tokyo Games countdown
WITH the 100-day countdown to the Tokyo Olympics commencing a few days back, the organisers and the Japanese government are putting up a brave face and reiterating their resolve to hold the Games as planned. However, they know that this is easier said than done. The recent spike in coronavirus cases worldwide is posing a huge challenge to their goal while opinion polls in Japan reveal that most of the population would like to see the Olympics either cancelled or postponed. The Games, already a year late, are set to be held from July 23 to Aug 8. The Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto recently said that cancellation is not an option and that the Olympics will, in fact, be a celebration of solidarity, unity and resilience. As one might expect from the world’s third-largest economy, the venues and stadiums are ready to host various disciplines in the mega affair, but the spike in infections has disrupted several events leading up to the Olympics including the torch relay. Australia’s diving team on Friday withdrew from the Diving World Cup scheduled for May 1-6 in Tokyo, saying it was “not safe” to travel to Japan. Among other events scheduled for next month, the marathon swim Olympic qualifier has been moved to Portugal and the artistic gymnastics test event has been cancelled because of restrictions on international travellers.
The Games organisers have already announced strict measures for spectators and athletes, which include reducing the size of Olympics delegations, adhering to strict standards of hygiene, social distancing, testing, etc. It was quite incredible then that they said vaccinations were not mandatory for participants — against the advice of many experts. Overall, there are 33 sporting and 339 medal events that will be contested at the Tokyo Games which are being billed as the best in the history of the modern Olympics. But despite the Games being just three months away, the fate of the biggest sporting spectacle on earth still hangs in the balance.