In the symposium titled “Herat Security Dialogues” convened in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, numerous experts and policymakers from diverse nations shared insights on the challenges confronting Afghanistan and potential solutions. Among the notable points raised during the deliberations, Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad highlighted a significant concern. He expressed, “The people of Afghanistan are clear about what they reject, but uncertainty looms regarding their aspirations.” In essence, there is a unanimous aversion to war, tyranny, extremist rule, and the Taliban – a nearly universal stance. But what is not seen consensually is exactly what kind of society and political system they desire as an ideal community and system to strive and fight for its realization. This point deserves more exploration because the lack of agreement and consensus on overarching national aspirations is one of the fundamental problems in this country, and without a solution to it, there is little hope of unraveling this blind knot.
Expressing opposition and unveiling the undesirable circumstances, a predominantly negative undertaking, does not demand considerable skill, particularly when negativity, pessimism, and cynicism have become ingrained in the mental framework of individuals or groups. Opposing and confronting political factions, sometimes vehemently and sometimes subtly, as is customary in the realm of politics, has been a pivotal aspect of political activity in Afghanistan over the past half-century. In his book on Afghanistan, Turki al-Faisal narrates the story of the presence of the mujahideen leaders in Mecca, offering prayers within the house of God. Initially, they shed tears, making promises of unity and solidarity. However, before reaching the city of Medina, their conflicts escalated, and their immediate and intense readiness for hostility and overt enmity became evident. This, of course, is not exclusive to the mujahideen, as other political groups have also faced challenges and have not fared better in their current circumstances.
Half a century of painful and tragic experiences is sufficient to compel political forces to change their approach. Instead of adopting a negative approach, they should opt for a positive one, choosing understanding and cooperation over opposition and confrontation, and prioritizing aspirations over undesired outcomes. This is a transformation eagerly awaited by many, both internally among the people and externally by numerous countries. The question, however, is how can such a transformation be witnessed. Are current politicians incapable of embracing such changes? Is the emergence of a new generation of politicians with a different perspective on issues and innovative approaches the key to solving this dilemma?
At this juncture, clear answers to these questions remain elusive. Nevertheless, change is the only remedy for the current situation. Afghanistan finds itself in a more entrenched crisis than ever before; its people have lost hope in the future, its intellectuals are scattered worldwide, its neighbors are content as long as it poses no harm to them, and the world contemplates how to leverage its soil for advancing strategic plans and proxy wars. A major contributor to these circumstances is the negative and conflict-oriented approach that has permeated Afghan politics, reinforcing the belief that positive and meaningful collaboration is not possible with many political figures and movements in Afghanistan. Therefore, engaging with the Taliban must be considered to break this impasse and unlock positive capacities for a meaningful way forward.
Transforming the political landscape in Afghanistan from a negative to a positive state and fostering collaboration over discord necessitate cultivating certain capacities, a pursuit worth endeavoring. Primarily, the capacity for dialogue among political factions must be established. Dialogue involves tolerating opposing views and striving to understand each other’s positions. The second step involves a readiness for criticism, both internal self-critique and external critique from others. Until the capacity for accepting criticism or at least listening to it becomes integral to political dynamics, especially until the ability to critically reassess one’s track record is embraced, significant transformation in this regard remains elusive. It is through dialogue and internal and external criticism that political rationality flourishes, paving the way for meaningful change.
As political rationality matures within a society, it embraces diversity while avoiding unnecessary conflicts. Contradiction, from this perspective, is considered an unavoidable yet manageable challenge that must be minimized. Accordingly, the correct approach to reducing and managing conflicts is emphasizing commonalities and prioritizing factors that connect political movements. Factors that bind political movements together and can serve as a platform for convergence and cooperation are abundant, linking the past, present, and future. A shared cultural and civilizational heritage and historical achievements universally valued by all factions provide a foundation for unity. Additionally, shared current hardships affecting all, tormenting millions in this land, represent another crucial factor for cohesion and solidarity. Furthermore, a shared future that future generations of this land possess and must collectively contribute to constitutes another essential bond that should underpin interactions between political forces.
Once such rationality is achieved, the focus shifts from what we don’t want to what we do want. Rather than concentrating on negations, the priority becomes defining aspirations and determining how far one is willing to go collectively to achieve them. In Afghanistan’s bitter and challenging circumstances, politics should revolve around precisely articulating our desires. Crucially, fundamental points that can serve as a common ground for all forces need to be identified, and a unified stance against them should be established. Minimal consensus is the key to unlocking progress. The people of Afghanistan must witness political forces aligning their efforts around shared goals, and the global community should observe Afghanistan’s politics transitioning from division and fragmentation towards common aspirations. It is more than stating what we do not want; the crux lies in expressing what we do want and the costs we are willing to bear for it.