Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Where does Taliban reconciliation leave victims of war?
The United States has signalled that it will gradually start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, after almost a decade fighting in the country, from July 2011. And so, perhaps driven by a sense of fear over what the absence of tens of thousands of foreign troops will mean for an already fragile security situation, the Afghan government is pursuing a policy of engaging the Taliban and other insurgent factions such as Hezb-i-Islami. It is a policy widely backed by officials and many members of parliament. It is a political means of seeking an end to the conflict, perhaps because the idea that Afghan security forces will be capable of doing the job of 100,000 foreign troops, is still unfathomable to many. But to many other Afghans it also represents a compromise which could see the country paring back the political developments it has achieved since 2001.
Tens of thousands of Afghans were killed in the bloody civil war which was triggered by the collapse of Kabul’s Soviet-backed government — most of them at the hands of warlords and powerful militia leaders who were competing for power. Some of these men are now officials. Some of them are Members of Parliament. Some of them are still fighting.
The Taliban’s reign, which followed the civil war, also victimised thousands of people.
For years these Afghans have lived with memories of being beaten, brutalised, raped or having witnessed the murder of family members, but they have received next to nothing in reparations, not even a simple apology. To them, the thought of their government — after nine years of clumsy nation building and billions of dollars spent on their country by the U.S. — welcoming the Taliban and other insurgent leaders to a Peace Jirga in Kabul next week leaves them feeling angry and hopeless.
I met with a group of victims in Kabul recently. They were gathered in a sparkly hotel ballroom. I hadn’t heard so many shocking stories of brutality in one place before. An audience of war-scarred Afghans heard from women who saw their children being shot dead and fathers whose sons had been kidnapped, imprisoned and executed. A man whose brother was lashed to death with an electrical cable. Teenagers who as toddlers had lost entire families to rockets and mortars and now walked Kabul’s streets, homeless and desperate.
While they were unified in their hatred for the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami (a delegation of which was invited for closed-door talks with Afghan officials last month) they were also fed up and tired of the fighting and poverty. Some of them said if it meant that peace would at last come to Afghanistan — and it would once and for all start a process of rehabilitation which does not involve thousands of foreign fighters fighting Afghans — perhaps talking with these men was worth a shot. But their greatest concern, and what both President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama have been silent over, is whether the people responsible for their pain will be brought to justice. Will there be a war crimes tribunal for Afghanistan? Or will the Afghan government’s fear that the country will regress back to a civil war, once they lose the sagging safety net of NATO forces, force it to compromise and bring the perpetrators of war crimes not only back into the fold of society but into the government?