How to negotiate with the Taliban-Lessons from the past

Posted in Afghanistan , Peace and Conflict | 09-Dec-10 | Author: Ahmad Noor

More than thirty years of perpetual war have left Afghanistan a country of ruined cities, amputees, disabled war veterans, young widows, orphaned children, torn up roads, destructive infrastructure and weak economy.

After Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in late 80's, the victorious Mujahedeen failed to reach an agreement to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan. They fought each other till another power, the Taliban, an ideological militia surfaced in Afghanistan. Taliban tried desperately to bring law and order in war torn country. Although they brought relative peace and stability to most part of the country, yet they failed to win the hearts and mind of Afghans and support of international community.
After the events of 9/11 and failure of Taliban to deliver Osama Bin Ladin to America, US and allied forces invaded Afghanistan. They ousted Taliban's Amarat (government) and installed Hamid Karzia's democratic government. The Afghans were optimistic that an era of peace and stability will be ushered in Afghanistan. Unfortunately the allied forces failed to concentrate on Afghanistan's progress. Instead, they followed their own divided interests. This situation of uncertainty gave chance to Taliban to regroup and re-emerge in Afghanistan.

Now the war against Taliban is passing its 10th year. Still, there is no sign of victory for either side. The Afghan people are fed up of this situation. They want peace and stability at any cost. The recent survey conducted by San Francisco based Asia Foundation showed that more than 80 percent adult Afghan backs negotiations and talks with Taliban, which provides testimony to the fact that Afghans cannot afford war anymore. This survey shows the mood of Afghan people, they believe in dialogue and want to solve the problems by negotiations and Jirgas (a Pashto term for a decision making assembly of male elders).
Robert Mc Namara, the secretary of defence for President Kennedy and Johnson wrote in, ‘In Retrospect:' The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, ‘we do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our own image or as we choose. We must recognise that the consequences of large scale military operations- particularly in this age of highly sophisticated and destructive weapons-are inherently difficult to predict and to control. Therefore, they must be avoided, expecting only when our nation's security is clearly and directly threatened...,' he also said, ‘Never deploy military means in pursuit of indeterminate ends. These are the lessons of Vietnam. Pray God we learn them!'

In recent past, American officials have been claiming a decisive victory and the administration was claiming the liberation of Afghan women from irony of Taliban. But the proclamations of success are premature. Mullah Mohammad Omar, the faithful leader of Taliban is nowhere to be found. The enemy has no address, no flag and wears no uniform. The enemy requires no tanks, no air support. He does not fear death and he is ready to blow himself and kill others. That is the main problem and dilemma of the world's strongest superpower of the time. They don't know how to cope with such an enemy that is technically weak but dowered with a fanatical motivation. Today, the Taliban are in control of much of the rural areas of the country. Most of the roads are closed at night and there are sufficient threats in day light for the travellers.

The legitimacy of the US action in Afghanistan has felled. Public support for the war is slipping in the United States and Europe. Already, some of the NATO members have pulled out their troops. The Dutch have left, more so due to political compulsion and the force of public opinion than other reason and the Canadians are preparing to fully pullout in 2012.

The masses, whether in America, Europe or Afghanistan, want peace. Now it is the responsibility and duty of the leaders to take bold steps towards achieving that.
Although, in the past, some back door diplomacy and back door channels have been active for negotiation with Taliban. For example, Saudi Arabia in 2008 laid down the foundation of negotiations with Taliban, when Saudi King Abdullah hosted some of the key Taliban leaders and Afghan officials to a private meeting to discuss ceasefire and to end insurgency.

Afghan government has also taken some important steps in last few years in recognising the need to reconcile with low level Taliban through Afghanistan's National Reconciliation Programme (NRP) headed by Pir Sibghatullah Mujadidi, General Amnesty Programme, National Stability Law enacted in January 2010 and most recently, the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP) headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani, where the strategy is to promote strengthening of security and civilian institutions of governance while enabling space for reintegrating former insurgents to reintegrate back to their communities.

Due to the malicious enmity between pro-western Afghan government headed by Hamid Karzia and the Taliban lead by Mullah Mohammad Umar, negotiations is a big task and challenge. Taliban consider all the steps taken by Karzia's government as the conspiracy to weaken Taliban, that is why they are not trusting the Afghan government. One of the ex Taliban commanders said on the condition of anonymity, "Taliban are not ready to talk with Karzia government because Karzia is a puppet and he has no authority and power to talk to Taliban. Whatever steps he has taken, were just a waste of time and political manoeuvring to weaken and to divide Taliban," he also added, "American and NATO forces should leave Afghanistan, only then the talks might be helpful."

In such an atmosphere of distrust and enmity, it is not possible to negotiate between the warring parties. The best way is to bring all the parties on the negotiation table by United Nations good offices with a full support of international community. American and NATO members should realise that war and aggression is not the solution to Afghan problem. The American and NATO members must give the peace a chance to nurture.

Keeping in mind the situation of Afghanistan, following steps might be useful and helpful to bring Taliban to negotiation table which is the need of the hour:
• Throughout the history, Afghans have solved their problems by Jirgas. One of the recent examples is that, after the fall of Taliban in 2001, Mulla Mohammad Umar was not ready to hand over Qandahar to the allied forces. It was due to the immense pressure of Pushtun tribal Jirga that he had handed over Qandahar and fled to an unknown place. So formation of a Jirga of the Southern tribal leaders and Ulemmas is one of the important steps towards bringing Taliban to a negotiation table.

• Role of Islamic parties and religious leaders of Pakistan is also very important and crucial, especially that of Moulana Sami Ul Haq and Moulana Fazal Ur Rahaman because most of the Taliban leadership were educated and brought up in the Madrassas belonging to these parties. Bringing these leaders in forefront for negotiation with Taliban is a useful step.

• One of the important step is involvement of right people in the peace process, Rabbani and Mujadidi are not acceptable to Taliban because of their past.

For confidence building measures with Taliban, following steps might also be effective:
• Take immediate actions for releasing Taliban prisoners from Bagram and other Afghan jails. The International community and the Afghan Government should also guarantee the safety and integrity of those figures.
• Clearing the names of all the opposition figures from the black list of UN.
• Give a political atmosphere to Taliban where they can express themselves.
• Stop all the combat operations against Taliban in Afghanistan
• Encourage the role of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran.
Beside these, the role of NATO and American forces is also crucial. They should not leave Afghanistan without a proper strategy as they did after signing of the Geneva Accords in 1988. They should support what the majority of Afghan people want. They should keep in mind the demographic situation of Afghanistan while making strategies.