With over 150,000 troops in Afghanistan, and another 30,000 American troops on its way later this year, and the 40 percent increase of Taliban attacks against civilians and military targets in the past four years, it is uncertain whether pre-talk conditions for negotiations are in order for building confidence, diminishing mutual mistrust, and instituting a structured sustainable dialogue system for mediators.
This past week General David H. Patraeus, the commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S. forces held a closed door political and military strategy session with representatives from twelve other Muslim countries, including Iran, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Internationalizing the responsibility of Muslim nations is an important step toward stabilizing Afghanistan because it raises their roles as stakeholders in creating a stable and functional Afghanistan.
In 2008 Saudi Arabia laid down the foundation to negotiations when the Kingdom hosted key Taliban leaders and Afghan officials to a private meeting to discuss a cease fire and end to insurgency. In the past five years the Afghan government has taken bold steps in recognizing the need to reconcile with Taliban foot-soldiers through Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Program, General Amnesty Program, National Stability Law enacted in January 2010, and most recently the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), 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.
Negotiating with Religious Actors
For too long policy-makers and military strategists connected to the counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan have viewed religious actors as either obstacles to peacemaking or the source for conflict. However, there are much more realistic nuances where we have seen religion as an influential factor in peacebuilding and reconciliation processes. Given the malicious enmity between the Taliban leaders and Afghan government officials, and the pro-western alliance of President Karzai, negotiations with the fragmented Taliban will be even more challenging.
It is clear that three main Taliban factions – Quetta Shura Afghan Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami, and Haqqani network tied to Pakistan- are unable or unwilling to come to the negotiating table together with one voice, so it is worth investing in those groups who have indicated to talk. According to Burhanuddin Rabbani, former Afghan president from 1992-1996 and head of the United National Front in Afghanistan, that there has been for several months discussions to open communication channels for the Quetta Shura Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami by Mullah Zaeef, former Taliban Ambassador and spokesperson. Mullah Omar, the spiritual father and charismatic leader of the Afghan Taliban has repetitively demanded to deal with non-corrupt officials and to have a tribunal for Afghan government officials who been explicitly tied to illegal torture and killings of civilians and suspected insurgents.
Within this situation, Muslim religious actors’ negotiating a deal to transform themselves from insurgents to civilian power-share holders involves several multi-layered variables; this ultimately means understanding their worldviews from a religious narrative. It may be that their religious narrative is contradictory or counterproductive but it must be understood in order to understand the raison d’être of the twenty-one year old Taliban movement. Negotiations with the Taliban mediators will raise issues of integrating former fighters, implementing an action plan of reconciliation, enforcing a program of accountability, developing a practical roadmap of reintegration without humiliation, and most importantly, third-party mediators will need to guarantee the power-sharing agreements with a timetable.
In order to foster a culture of peace during negotiations and afterwards it will require the synchronized work and involvement of peacemakers and organizations that are trained in sustainable development, transitional justice, trauma healing, peacebuilding, conflict transformation, and sustainable economic and social development.
This article was published by the Global Experts on October 20, 2010.