Afghanistan at a crossroads: An interview with Mohammad Karim Khalili, Chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council

18.12.2018

Afghanistan is at a crossroads between peace talks and parliamentary and presidential elections.

Over 8,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of 2018, according to the United Nations. These figures underline how fragile the security situation remains four decades into the conflict and seventeen years after the US led a campaign to overthrow the Taliban.

There cannot be a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, nor can the international community impose peace from the outside. The peace process needs to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

Mohammad Karim Khalili, Chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council and Former Second Vice President of Afghanistan, visited Germany at our invitation to discuss key issues related to the peace process in Afghanistan

We used this opportunity to sit down with him to get his view why despite the challenges ahead, he is now optimistic that he will witness peace in his lifetime.

For those who are less familiar with the country context: What do you see as the role and contributions of the Afghan High Peace Council?

Let me start by saying that the conflict in Afghanistan, which has lasted for over four decades and has resulted in many casualties, has effects that go beyond the country and the region. There is an international dimension as well. Within this context, it is only natural that crisis management is difficult considering the various interests of different stakeholders in the region. Any organisation that is tasked with furthering the agenda of peace, such as the High Peace Council, attracts a lot of attention and is in the spotlight.

The process to establish the council dates back to 2010. It was the intention of the Afghan government at the time that the efforts towards peace should reflect the inclusive will of the Afghan people from all walks of life. The High Peace Council should represent all fractions of society.

I believe that since its establishment, the High Peace Council was very active and effective in pursuing its goals. Yet this had a price. Many members of the council were targeted and murdered, including its first Chair, former President of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani.

I am proud of the achievements of the High Peace Council since I became Chair in 2017: We have created the space for participation and inclusiveness, and have established credible channels to the movement of the Taliban’s leadership.

What makes you hopeful that a peaceful future is possible?

First let me say: yes, I am very hopeful.

History tells us that most conflicts can be resolved. And I believe the conflict in Afghanistan is one that can be resolved by dialogue and talks. I can say with certainty that the government of Afghanistan, the leadership of the Taliban and the High Peace Council have one thing in common: we all believe peace is a necessity.

I strongly feel that the environment in Afghanistan is changing towards peace. Peace is the word of the day. We see the movement and voices raised for peace from all corners of the country. For example, we witnessed the March for Peace, where dozens of people including the disabled walked from Helmand in Western Afghanistan to Kabul demanding peace.

I can also observe a change in narrative when it comes to the regional political environment: from conflict toward its transformation.

All this taken together is what makes me hopeful.

You say there is consensus that people want peace: What can ordinary people do towards peace?

People can play an extremely important role by putting pressure on the process.

I always tell people wherever I go: Make peace your main message. Use your voices to show that the desire for peace is so strong that it cannot be ignored.

Peace is not a gift that can be given from the outside. The people of Afghanistan need to bring about peace and maintain it. External facilitators can only support the process.

What would change in Afghanistan if all violent conflict were overcome?

I believe that all aspects of life would be positively by affected by an end to the war. Especially the economy would develop; for example, employment opportunities would rise and the relations with other countries would improve.

Yet what is most important is that the current conflict leads to 150-200 casualties every month, many of them young people. Only through peace can we save these precious young lives.

One of the biggest damages of conflict is the disintegration of society. Only in a peaceful society can enmity be replaced with brotherhood, love and unity, which is essential for the survival of the nation.