Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
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.
By Hamid Shalizi
For Afghanistan’s recently elected MPs, a political crisis that threatened to stop some of them ever taking up their seats had a silver lining – they all moved into a five star hotel.
Nearly all 249 MPs booked rooms in one of Kabul’s most luxurious hotels, the hill-top Intercontinental, after President Hamid Karzai said he would delay the inauguration of parliament by a month.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has supported a proposal to open an office for the Taliban in a third country such as Turkey. Such a move could help facilitate talks with the insurgent group on reconciliation and reintegration of members back into society, and Kabul was happy for Turkey to be a venue for such a process, he said last week, following a trilateral summit involving the presidents of Turkey and Pakistan.
The question is while a legitimate calling card for the Taliban would be a step forward, the insurgent group itself shows no signs yet of stepping out of the shadows, despite the best entreaties of and some of his European backers. The Taliban remain steadfast in their stand that they won’t talk to the Afghan government unless foreign troops leave the country. More so at the present time when U.S. commander General David Petraeus has intensified the battle against them and the Taliban have responded in equal measure.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai may be pushing for talks with the Taliban in public as the only way to end the nine-year war, but in private he is as determined as the United States in opposing any place for top Taliban leaders in a future government , the latest set of WikiLeaks documents show. Those repeated calls for talks are more aimed at sowing dissensions in the insurgent group than any serious attempt for a negotiated settlement of the war. Indeed as The Guardian reports on the leaked comments on its website, so far as Karzai and the Obama administration are concerned, the only option open to the Taliban is surrender.
Which pretty much is a deal-maker, given that the Taliban having fought the world’s most advanced military formation to a virtual stalemate, have shown few signs of a compromise, much less surrender.
For all the talk of seeking a political settlement of the Afghan war with the involvement of the Taliban, it has not been clear even broadly what a final deal will look like. Will the Taliban, who control or exercise influence over large parts of the country, take charge in Kabul ? Will the United States simply and fully withdraw all its forces from the country? What happens to President Hamid Karzai who has been actively seeking reconciliation with the hardline Islamists ? What about the regional powers, not just Pakistan which obviously will play a central role because of its ties to the Taliban, but also Iran and India, both with rising stakes there along with the Russians and the Chinese to a lesser extent ?
Selig Harrison, director of the Asia programme at the Center for International Policy, explores some of these questions in a must-read piece in Foreign Policy headlined “How to leave Afghanistan without Losing.”
from The Great Debate:
Last year, under the leadership of President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan slipped three places on a widely respected international index of corruption and became the world's second-most corrupt country. It now ranks 179th out of 180, a place long held by Somalia.
According to a United Nations report published in January, Afghans paid $2.5 billion in bribes in 2009, roughly a quarter of the country's Gross Domestic Product (not counting revenue from the opium trade). The survey, based on interviews with 7,600 people, said corruption was the biggest concern of Afghans.
from Tales from the Trail:
When two heads of state stand side-by-side in public, it's all about reading into the words they choose and the body language.
In the case of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama the word "frank" came up a number of times.
from Tales from the Trail:
When President Barack Obama snuck into Afghanistan unannounced last month, a notable omission on Air Force One was his special representative for the region, veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke.
Leaving out the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Obama's very first trip to Kabul as president raised a few eyebrows.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai seems to be making a habit of going to shuras, or meeting of local elders, across the country in recent weeks. After attending shuras in Marjah, Tirin Kot and Kandahar over the past month and a half, Karzai flew to Kunduz in the north this past weekend for another meeting with tribal elders. The U.S. military took a group of journalists to the town to watch the Afghan leader in action, his presence at shuras being a part of a carefully choreographed “hearts and minds” campaign aimed at getting local support for NATO operations in the area.
That the security situation in Kunduz is of concern seemed apparent soon after we got off our military plane from Kabul. Greeted by our German military hosts, we were bundled into heavy flak jackets for a bumpy 5 minute ride at breakneck speed from the airfield to the provincial reconstruction team base. As we listened to the standard instructions on what to do during a rocket attack, we also learned the last time a rocket had hit the base was just the day before we arrived. Once seen as one of the safer parts of Afghanistan, Kunduz has emerged as a relatively new battlefront in the fight with the Taliban, who have made inroads into the area from their main strongholds in the south and the east.
Press conferences at the presidential palace in Kabul can be tedious affairs but the frustration felt by the local press corp topped a new level when U.S. President Barack Obama came to visit Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday evening. Mainly because there wasn’t one — a press conference that is.