Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Slamming the door on reconciliation with Taliban

February 2, 2011

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Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Rangeen Dadfar Spanta has said that the Taliban would have to lay down arms, accept the constitution in its current form and run for elections if they wanted a share of power.  If the Taliban thought they could get cabinet berths for the asking in return for a peace deal, they have another thing coming, he told the McClatchy newspapers in an interview.

If that’s the Afghan government’s stand,  a deal with the insurgents seems to be a non-starter. Imagine the Taliban agreeing to take part in a Western-style election  campaign under a constitution they have long denounced as forced on the country following their ouster in 2001. The idea of the Taliban – more known for their brutal methods –  knocking on doors seeking votes seems a bit far fetched at the moment. Last week’s reports of the Taliban stoning a young couple to death in rather barbaric fashion in northern Afghanistan on charges of adultery have only reinforced the image of a group unyielding in its interpretation of sharia  law.

Not that the Taliban themselves have shown any willingness for talks.  They have made clear there is no question of any dialogue until all foreign forces leave their homeland, and the country is returned to them as it was pre-2001. Indeed all the talk about talks and the conditions that go with it have come from the Afghan government and some of  its backers in Europe, and not the Taliban. So you have a rather odd situation -  the Afghan government is repeatedly urging the Taliban to come for talks but in the same breath setting conditions that only a fatally weakened interlocutor would accept.

And the Taliban look far from a weakened enemy. Not only have they extended their reach into the north and west from their  southern and eastern strongholds, they are striking at Kabul again, breaching the Ring of Steel or the security cordon that was thrown around the capital during the elections last year.  Talks seem the farthest thing on their minds, although arguably you could be adopting tough postures in public while keeping the door open in private for some kind of engagement.

Indeed Spanta said there wasn’t any serious discussion going on with the Taliban contrary to reports that emerged last year. There might have been some contacts, but it wasn’t clear even these  tentative contacts had any kind of backing from the top Taliban.  It was possible, though, to bring out the ”simple countryside”  Taliban into the mainstream since they were driven by   the presence of foreign troops and bad governance. But the top leadership remained steadfast in their refusal for any kind of engagement..

Spanta is known to be a bit of hawk on political reconciliation with the Taliban, but he is a key aide of President Hamid Karzai. And if he’s setting the policy markers in such clear and non-negotiable terms,  this war doesn’t look like its ending anytime soon.

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