Talks with AfghanTaliban

Time to talk to Taliban
TAHIR ALI

Business Recorder (February 06 2010)
The new initiative by Afghan president Hamid Karzai to woo moderate Taliban insurgents and leaders, who are ready to shun militancy and are not part of al Qaeda, into the political process in return for money, jobs, protection, and amnesty may not succeed for various reasons. Karzai said that those who joined the Taliban were also children of Afghanistan.

However, US General Stanley McChrystal recently suggested that hard-line Taliban, who are part of al Qaeda or other terror groups, would not be accepted in the scheme and they would obviously be killed or captured. The US, Britain, Canada, Germany and Japan have voiced support for the plan and a negotiated peace with the Taliban.

Karzai also hopes Saudi King Abdullah will play a role in Afghanistan peace process. He asked all neighbours, particularly Pakistan, to support his peace and reconciliation endeavours. It is a replay of a similar strategy used in Iraq that produced significant results. But analysts are sceptical of any positive outcome from the new overture. No doubt it will generate debate and discussion but may produce little or no result to help restore peace to the war-torn Afghanistan.

Afghan leaders have demanded that the Taliban forswear violence and their association with al Qaeda before talks start. For their part, the Taliban have demanded that the Americans and other foreign forces leave the country first. Both are poles apart, how could negotiations succeed in this situation.

What do Taliban and other fighter groups say? Taliban have out-rightly rejected the offer for a dialogue and demanded withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. “The new offer is aimed at extending the invasion of Afghanistan by occupying forces. It is just a waste of time,” the statement attributed to the Taliban Leadership Council said. Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they could not be bought by money and bounties. The only political solution is that the foreign forces and the Afghan government surrender to them.

Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, former Afghan premier and chief of the Hezb-e-Islami, the biggest party after Taliban in Afghanistan, wants withdrawal of foreign troops without any preconditions. “All the foreign forces must leave Afghanistan unconditionally. A permanent cease-fire must be enforced. All prisoners from all sides must be freed. An interim administration must take charge for one year,” said a Hekmatyar’s spokesman.

Issues American occupation of Afghanistan is the principal cause of the problem. As long as this occupation continues, resistance to it will invariably go on. To hope for peace without the withdrawal of foreign troops from the Pushtoon belt will be an illusion and wishful thinking.

A Pak-Afghan Jirga was held in the Afghan capital Kabul from 9th to 12th August 2007. I remember when I dubbed it a futile activity in one of my articles in a local daily, I was harshly criticised by a Peshawar-based writer of being ignorant, unrealistic and unaware of the worth of that activity. But my observations were later substantiated by increase in the number of attacks and failure of the process.

The Afghans are independent by nature and they have had fought the Mughals, the Sikhs, the British, the former USSR and will never welcome the new occupiers. As long as the US forces are there, there can’t be any peace there. But the plan doesn’t address this core issue altogether. With the US not showing any signs of an imminent pull-out from the war-torn country, any hope for the success of this mechanism may only be just a wishful thinking. This process will come out to be a fruitless exercise and wastage of time.

America, its allies and the Karzai ‘government’ want to divide and weaken the Taliban-led struggle. British foreign secretary David Miliband has also publicly stated that the aim of the Western countries was to divide the Taliban and overcome their resistance. The coalition only wishes a respite in attacks against the coalition forces there. It hopes that opposition to its presence will either subside or disappear in future. It wants peace but on the basis of its own terms and desires. Will the Taliban or Hikmatyar agree to it? They, as we all know, have their preconditions to enter into a meaningful dialogue.

America always seeks to divert attention from their attack and occupation to the resultant resistance and “terrorism” but completely neglect the mother of all ills – the US occupation of Afghanistan. According to Richard Holbrook, the overwhelming majority of these people are not ideological supporters of Mullah Omar and al Qaeda.

But that majority of fighters are not ideological fighters doesn’t mean that they are supporters of Hamid Karzai and the US occupation forces. The plan is based on the premise that Taliban gives their foot-soldiers higher salaries than the Afghan government can afford to pay its forces. This is unproven and misplaced, because most Afghan Taliban fighters and their families live in miserable conditions. Most are motivated by a desire to martyrdom or independence of their land. If the plan is considered in this backdrop, then the whole premise of buying off the Taliban is unsound and doomed to fail.

The size of the Nato-led force in Afghanistan will rise to 150,000 by year-end. But the surge alone will not ensure victory for them there. A political strategy will be needed but for that the huge gap between the opposing views of Taliban and the US will have to be reconciled. It necessitates a mediator or arbiter between the two.

But an arbiter usually starts work on the mutual request or at least upon the consent of the parties concerned. Again, an arbiter should be a neutral person or body of people respected by all parties and given authority. This is called “Waak” in Pushto. Has any ‘Waak’ been given to a third party or arbiter? As far as I know, no such thing has come forward so far.

Saudi Arabia has been asked for help for its respect among the Muslims. But its foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, says his country will take part in Afghan peace efforts only if the Taliban expel bin Laden and sever ties with militant networks. Will Taliban promise for that? They are yet to respond.

Though Karzai believes Pakistan can bring the Taliban to the negotiation table, there are indications that Pakistan has no worthwhile influence over the Taliban. Its influence over the Afghan Taliban and credibility has been on the decline ever since it joined the US war on terror. They didn’t accept Pakistan’s request to hand over Osama to the US; they rejected its persuasion to avoid the Bamiyan debacle; they didn’t deliver wanted Pakistanis hiding there and the like. Even now Pakistan will have little influence over them to motivate them to dialogue.

Chances The fact that Taliban and Hikmatyar are in no mood to support and join the process is sufficient not to associate any big hope with it. Both Taliban and Hikmatyar have made their support conditional with the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. And we know there is no such thing on the agenda.

Though some fighters would certainly stop fighting in return for favours, the majority would continue resisting the foreign forces and the temptations. Fighting is likely to continue in Afghanistan for the time being and a purely military victory is unlikely in Afghanistan.

Analysts say the removal of the men from the list is not likely to persuade other Taliban to abandon the fight as all five were relatively low-level leaders or had already deserted the Taliban. The US would have to show restraint and avoid dangerous actions that can make negotiations impossible or halt the process if it started at all. General amnesty will have to be given.

The US and Obama are desperate to win the war. Obama want a face saving gesture. Will the Taliban and other fighter groups give him that? Obama for sure is trying to win a war that no invader from Alexander the Great to Soviet Russia could win. Afghanistan still remains a safehaven for al Qaeda recruits despite nine years of war there.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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