Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Slamming the door on reconciliation with Taliban

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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.

Buying out Taliban foot soldiers a long shot

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If a shopkeeper from Quetta impersonating as a Taliban commander made a mockery of President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to seek reconciliation with the insurgent leadership, a parallel programme to lure away foot soldiers  too made little headway last year. A bottom-up reintegration of  low to mid-level fighters back into society was meant to complement the top-down approach of seeking a compromise with the leadership. In the event, while there is little sign of  any engagement, at least in the public domain  ( although it has to be said for a peace process to be meaningful it probably has to be conducted away from the public eye), only a handful of rebels have stepped forward to lay down their weapons.

A year into the reintegration programme, less than 800 insurgents agreed to end the fight, according to  Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman. That makes up for less than 3 percent of the estimated militant strength of 30,000. At this rate it will take a decade to peel away the rank-and file, assuming the overall strength remains constant.  More disappointingly, the men who signed up for the programme weren’t even hard core Taliban. They were mostly low-level community-defense forces, Ackerman quotes British Maj.Gen. Phil Jones, the NATO official in charge of enticing the insurgents, as saying.

An address for the Taliban in Turkey ?

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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.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Taliban talks: “an iffy, high-level treaty”

arghandab3In Obama's Wars, Rob Woodward attributes the following thoughts to U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on the prospects for a peaceful settlement to the Afghan war:

"He saw reconciliation and reintegration as distinct.  Reconciliation was esoteric, an iffy high-level treaty with Taliban leaders. Reintegration occurred down at the local level in villages and towns..."

Saving Afghanistan from its neighbours

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(A view of the tent in Kabul where the jirga will be held.Reuters/ Ahmad Masood

(A view of the tent in Kabul where the jirga will be held. Reuters/Ahmad Masood

Walking into a giant tent at the foothills of Kabul, you are conscious of the importance of jirgas throughout Afghanistan’s troubled history.  These assemblies of tribal elders have been called at key moments in the country’s history  from whether it should participate in the two World Wars to a call for a national uprising against an Iranian invasion in the 18th century.

Next week’s jirga is aimed at building  a national consensus behind Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s effort to seek a negotiated settlement of the nine year conflict now that the Taliban have fought U.S. and NATO forces to a virtual stalemate and the clock on a U.S. military withdrawal has begun.

Guest Column: Getting Obama’s Afghan policy back on track

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(C. Uday Bhaskar is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. The views expressed in the column are his own).

By C. Uday Bhaskar

The May 12 summit meeting in the White House between visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his host, U.S. President Barack Obama comes against the backdrop of the mercifully aborted May 1 terrorist bombing incident in New York’s Times Square.

B-minus for war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan ?

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(Afghan boys at a cemetry in Kabul. Picture by Ahmad Masood)

(Afghan boys at a cemetry in Kabul. Picture by Ahmad Masood)

Gallup has a new poll out testing the mood inside Afghanistan and Pakistan and it remains downbeat.  Roughly half of those surveyed in both countries said their governments were not doing enough to fight terrorism, despite the infusion of troops in Afghanistan and military offensives in Pakistan.

The dissatisfaction is  even more pronounced the closer you are to the trouble spots.  Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed in Pakistan’s northwest, which is really the ground zero of the war against militant groups, were unhappy with the government’s efforts.  Afghans were even more impatient, with some 67 percent in the east which faces Pakistan’s troubled  northwest, registering their disappointment.

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

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(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban’s promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

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