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Talks With Taliban After Election: Will This Work? Talks With Taliban After Election: Will This Work?
by Abdulhadi Hairan
2009-08-04 10:07:12
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Both the commanding powers of the eight-year old War on Terror, the United States and the United Kingdom, recently hinted for talks with the Taliban insurgents after the second presidential election of the country, set for August 20.

According to Daily Mail, “the suggestion of ‘talks with the Taliban’ came as Gordon Brown revealed the biggest offensive by UK troops in Helmand Province since the conflict began is now over. Ministers said that talking with the insurgents who have killed 191 British soldiers might be the only way to curtail the bloody war.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed and praised this approach, saying: “starting peace process with the Taliban will ensure peace and stability and such efforts are part of our government’s strategy,” said a statement issued from his spokesman’s office on Tuesday, July 28, 2009.

Like the Britons, the Americans too seem in need of talks with the Taliban as their soldiers suffered record casualties in the month of July. According to Pajhwok Afghan News, while talking to Afghanistan Ulema Council (AUC) in Kabul on July 25, “US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke promised beginning peace talks with the Taliban and other opposition forces once the upcoming presidential and provincial elections are completed.”

But the basic question is still unanswered, even not discussed: How are you going to talk with them? Have you developed any strategy for this? The insurgents have always refused to participate in talks and meetings that suggest reconciliation. Withdrawal of the international troops from Afghanistan is their first and foremost demand. For the international troops it is unlikely to accept this demand because it will be their defeat in this bloody war. It is as clear as crystal: the world’s most advanced armies and their governments just can’t afford to be defeated by a force of insurgents.

For President Hamid Karzai, talks with the Taliban has always been a brilliant idea; but all of his negotiations offers were rejected by the Taliban leadership; the one-eyed insurgent leader has even called on the people to boycott the ‘deceptive election.’ Yet, Mr. Karzai has been using the talks offer as a slogan for his election campaign. During his last visit to Kanahar, he said that he will initiate peace talks with the Taliban if he was re-elected.  But why could not he do so during his eight years in the office? The answer is simple: because the Taliban wanted a complete withdrawal of the international troops and the international troops had an agenda of curbing the menace of terrorism.

The idea of ‘moderate Taliban’ and reconciliation with them is also a blur perception: if someone is a moderate, they surely would not like to be a part of the ruthlessness that the insurgents have been demonstrating in different forms such as killing civilian people in suicide attacks, burning schools and hospitals and murdering aid workers, engineers, journalists, teachers and doctors. After reading this Newsweek article, one may consider even Mullah Baradar a ‘moderate,’ but, according to the article, it was he who re-organized the force in true meaning and still leads it from unknown places in Quetta.

And then there is another question: if the international troops and the next Afghan government decide to talk with the insurgents, which group of the insurgents will they talk with? And does each of these groups has enough authority to come to the table of talks? When Pakistan balked at the recent Helmand operation, it was not just that the militants were fleeing to their land, but the real reason was Pakistan’s losing of its strategic assets.  It means that there are many external factors, such as Pakistan, who should be addressed before any talks with the Afghan forces of the insurgents. If the external factors were not addressed and the insurgents were brought to the table of talks, it will be just a waste of time and resources because these insurgents will get the huge share of the benefits of reconciliation while the external forces will still be free to recruit and train other fighters or groups of fighters who will then confront the international forces with a new strategy and different tactics of fighting to achieve their goals.

The presidential election is now three weeks away. It is premature to say anything about the approaches of the would-be-president of Afghanistan to this issue, but after reading the views of most hopeful candidate, Dr. Ashraf Ghani, one can conclude that the talks option will not work unless the external factors are addressed. He states: “There are four major threats to securing Afghanistan’s futures. First, Al Qaeda is a renewed force moving fluidly between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Second, an expanded, well resourced, and multifaceted insurgency presents a continual threat to Afghan and international actors.” And for addressing these challenges, he writes: “To succeed, we and our friends and allies must reverse the Taliban’s gains and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government.”


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