Going by what transpired in the London Moot of January 28, 2010, the Afghan premiership and its western allies have commonly fathomed that negotiated settlement with the fanatically purist Talibs is indeed the cooperative path out of the morass after nine years of often directionless drift. Centrality of the message is that a concerted act may wave over Afghanistan, making the insurgents to wither away with pledges reintegrating them back in the social and political fabrics by offering security, vocational training, jobs and amnesty for past crimes. Among the high profile Talib ****-ups, the US, however, is in favour of engaging mid- and low-level militants, 70 percent of whom are believed to fight for money and reasons other than ideological and may lay down arms if given a viable alternative. Fragmenting the Taliban on good and bad standards, the good probably refers to a newer generation that might be more willing to cut deals with foreign forces than the older generation, which partnered with the likes of Osama bin Laden. It is being believed that the disenchanted folks can be accommodated in the political mainstream if they renounce violence and sever links with Al Qaeda. Then there is the perennial talk of wooing moderate Taliban over to the government’s side. However, the hurdles lie ahead must be brought to light: How to identify the modes of reconciling the Pastun dissidents? Will the new Strategy work? Did the London summit on Afghanistan signal a bold new approach or offer a blueprint for the US-led coalition’s exit strategy? It is also no secret that the west wants out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. The success is thus oscillatory and it is yet to be seen whether the US-led west could win by this process of discriminatory chicaneries, subtly fomenting discord among Pashtun Taliban in order to achieve the good objective.
It is clear that neither the Taliban nor ISAF are currently in a position to win the war in Afghanistan. What is more significant though is that the militants enjoy the upper hand right now, not the Afghan government and its international allies. Obviously, the maxima has been factored out by realizations on part of both the US-led NATO forces and the combatants, leading the former cartographers to understand that success in untangling the Afghan knot is impossible at the crossroads, likewise the latter stewardship does not feel winning the global battleground that had already witnessed motleys of the Great Game played there in different eras. In this dual-tracked compromising path way, the west is relying solely on the past imperialistic game of dissecting the Pashtun Taliban by providing incentives package of politico-socio engineering and financial backing to war weary leaders and foot soldiers, assuming that concessionary modus-vivendi could win over the brawling ideological concord. Antithetically, the Taliban is waiting out for the cut and run channel, previously exercised by the mighty US in Vietnam. With the west’s possible admission that the best it can get in Afghanistan is a stalemate followed by the foreign forces’ withdrawal, coercive violence may reappear at some later stage where the defected Afghan segments may join hands with the war-lords. If that happens, Afghanistan and the region as a whole could be back to square one. Washington formula is calculating on the possibility of talks with the battle fatigued sections of Taliban coupled by a surge in allied forces’ offensive against those unwilling to come to the negotiation table. But the question arises: can the Taliban be so shaky in a year’s time that can be dictated to from a position of strength?
The London conference is the sixth in the series of the long-term commitments and pledges to Afghanistan, as previously set out in the 2001 Bonn Agreement, in the 2002 Tokyo Conference, the 2006 Afghanistan Compact, the 2008 Paris Declaration and the 2009 The Hague Conference Declaration. The London communiqué dangled the prospect of a longed-for peace. Once again the international community re-affirmed its support for the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions upholding the security, stability and prosperity of Afghanistan and in particular the role of the UN itself in achieving this goal. In the meantime, three strategic reviewed has been taken by President Obama. The solely reason behind is that 2009 had highly been a bad time for the US army causalities that increased even than the last year. The Afghan fraudulent election has also challenged the credibility of the UN and Washington. Then the US-European public pressure is also demanding social-civilian engineering rather than troop surge. Last week moot is merely the continuity of previous pledges and hopes.
Two new developments took place in this conference. Firstly, the Karzai’s sponsored reintegration plan and secondly the committed increase in donors’ proportion of development aid to 50 percent to be delivered through the government of Afghanistan in the next two years. But this support is conditional on the government’s progress in further strengthening public financial management systems, reducing corruption, improving budgetary execution, developing a financing strategy and government’s capacity towards the goal.
The London meeting backed the Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s plan to reintegrate Taliban - willing to cut ties with Al-Qaida, to eschew violence and other terrorist groups and pursue their political goals peacefully - and offer an honourable social status in a free and open society that respect the principles enshrined in the Afghan constitution. International allies will pledge at least $500 million for the reconciliation fund — officially known as the Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund, and dubbed as the “Taliban Trust Fund” by some. London confirmed the best, the allies now hope for is an orderly and honourable retreat, scattering alms as they leave.
The strategic community realized that some political element is missing in their Afghan paradigm, therefore they include civilian surge as an important component of the Afghan strategy. US Secretary of state Hillary Clinton had also acknowledged that most modern conflicts didn’t end with a victory on the field of battle and therefore political and development work was essential.
Analyzing the shift in policy towards accommodation, critics predict if political and softer strategy initiatives are subject to the kinetic measures then durable peace in Afghanistan will be a remote dream. The decision makers have wrong perception that they can divide the Taliban through money. This reintegration plan excludes the core combatant leadership in the engagement of political reconciliation. Nothing could be clearer than the fact that there is an ever-widening divide in the perception, interests and understanding of the situation amongst the various stakeholders in Afghanistan. The regional states have their eyes on maximizing benefits as the US reviews cutting its losses and bailing out of Kabul.
Despite the international backing to the Karzai’s sponsored reintegration plan, dichotomy is tangible between Kabul and Washington, where the latter assumes that it is up to the Afghan government to decide which Taliban leaders could be integrated, but final decisions be chalked out in consultation with the US-multilateral architectures. This influential factor can undermine the true sprit of reintegration plan. There are some who believe that an agreement could have been reached only if the US was not in such a hurry to attack in the beginning.
Afghanistan - the “Heart of Asia” and a land-bridge between the South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and the Far East - is in the sate of doldrums since nine years, facing the ‘shock and awe’ approach that envisaged the US-led allies using military power against an essentially primitive enemy to obtain its submission. Now the legitimacy of the Afghan authorities and international community will depend on their ability to establish a truly representative government through full inclusion of all the Afghan stakeholders in the political process for the lasting peace and stability not only in Afghanistan but also in the region. Forming splinter coteries among the Taliban on good and bad lines can only further deepen the prevalent ethnic rifts, thus threatening the national integrity, solidarity and regional peace.
Muhammad Nawaz Khan verdag is Assistant Research Officer at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Islamabad. He has an academic background with Bachelors in Arts with major in Political Science and Journalism, M.Sc in Defence and Strategic Studies (1994-196) from Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad. Before joining IPRI he has served as Police Officer in Punjab, Pakistan. During his service he underwent Advanced Investigation Course (2002) in addition to other related training courses. He has also got Training of Trainers (TOT) for Master Trainers Programme Co-sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Royal Norwegian Embassy conducted at Administrative Staff College, Lahore, in 2006. His areas of interest include Security dynamic of South Asia, while currently he is working on Counter-Terrorism specially the “De-Radicalisation and Disengagement Phenomena as Experienced in Northern Europe, Middle East and Far East and Lessons for Pakistan.” He also focuses on strategic issues and political developments around the world with special focus on Terrorism related issues and “Softer Power” Counter-Radicalisation.
Is peace with the Taliban really possible?