The Afghan peace process is seemingly yet again arriving at a plateau. The Loya Jirga’s decision that gave a free hand to the Afghan government in terms of releasing the 400 controversial Taliban inmates is ostensibly being overridden. There are now new spanners in the works of the prisoner release process. Some foreign countries, including Australia and France, have asked the Afghan government not to free the Taliban inmates who have killed their citizens. Moreover, the government, which has released only 80 of the total 400 contentious Taliban prisoners as of yet, cites the Taliban’s reluctance to set free some Afghan commandos and pilots as a reason for the lag in the process.
In the meantime, President Ashraf Ghani, in an interview with the London-based ‘The Times’ newspaper, has warned that the release of the final batch of the Taliban inmates would lead to increased drug trade in the UK and European nations. He cautioned the prisoners include drug kingpins and dealers and thus the West would bear the responsibility if a wave of narcotics hit the UK and the European countries. However, the Taliban vehemently invalidate Ghani’s remarks, saying their prisoners had never been involved in the drug trade. Surprisingly, the group alleges that during its era, the cultivation of narcotics in Afghanistan was ‘zero’. The Taliban put the blame on the US and the Afghan government for Afghanistan being among the world’s most-drug-producing countries over the past 19 years. The insurgents also utterly deny that their imprisoned fighters were involved in the drug trade.
Analyzing these recent developments, APW believes these are all hurdles that would result in making the peace process arrive at a stalemate once again and thus ultimately be a hindrance to achieving comprehensive peace and stability in the country. The Taliban’s claim that drug cultivation was naught is baseless because it was never zero but a temporary significant decrease. Based on reliable estimates of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium production peaked at over 4,600 metric tons during the early years of Taliban rule (1996-1999). Nevertheless, there was a short-lived ban enforced by the Taliban in 2000 and 2001. It’s said that opium production plunged significantly, from approximately 3,726 metric tons in 2000 to 185 metric tons in 2001 at the time. In comparison, the US Office of National Drug and Control Policy figures show that opium production in 2019 was at around 6,700 metric tons. This means the war on terror and war on drugs are going hand in hand and there haven’t been many tangible achievements in this regard that the Afghan government can feel proud of. One of the reasons for this increase in drug trade and production is the lack of governance and control in contested areas. But again, it’s a vivid truth that the narcotics economy in Afghanistan currently finances the operations and war machinery of the insurgents – who purport themselves to be against this menace. Therefore, the sides are only throwing dust in Afghans’ eyes.
Afghans are paying the costs for peace by accepting to release the hardcore and hardened criminals of the Taliban but are expecting a dividend in return in terms of peace and stability. Ordinary masses have consented to pay heavy prices and take bold risks so the warring sides could reach a political deal, allowing them to heave a sigh of relief. Therefore, both sides should make compromises now in terms of releasing prisoners and complete this process once and for all, facilitating the launch of the intra-Afghan talks.