Event ReportsPublished on Apr 26, 2011
Emphasising that majority of Taliban cadre can be won over for establishing peace in their war-torn country, Afghan government spokespersons said the peace initiative would become successful once ordinary Afghans realise that international forces are not going to remain in the country indefinitely.
Moderate Taliban can be won over for peace, say Afghan spokespersons
An overwhelming majority of Taliban cadre is motivated by ethnic and tribal grievances, or has joined the movement to secure a means of livelihood. So, instead of relying on military methods, these elements of the Taliban must be engaged in a political dialogue of ’reconciliation and reintegration’. And this peace process must be led and directed by Afghans themselves. This was the firm viewpoint expressed by a delegation of Afghan spokespersons during an interaction at Observer Research Foundation on April 26, 2011. They said such a peace initiative would become successful once ordinary Afghans realise that international forces are not going to remain in the country indefinitely. The delegation leaders Mr. Lutfullah Mashal of the National Directorate of Security and Mr. Sediq Sediqqi Ghulam of the President’s Secretariat said that the role of Pakistan in ensuring peace in Afghanistan is very important and that is why the Afghan President, Mr. Hamid Karzai, has come together with the Pakistani Prime Minister, Mr. Yousaf Raza Gillani, to achieve peace in the region. They pointed out that with Pakistan also becoming a democracy, their relations have improved. The delegation, comprising spokespersons from key ministries like Foreign Affairs, Border & Tribal Affairs, Finance, Higher Education, Mines, Counter Narcotics, Communication, Parliamentary Affairs, and Rural Rehabilitation and Development, updated the faculty with the latest developments in Afghanistan. They spoke about the peace talks with the Taliban in detail and gave their perspective which is different from what is appearing in the western media. The Afghan government has formed the High Peace Council, an independent body headed by former President Borhanuddin Rabbani and comprising members of the civil society, ulema, and traditional elites to make peace parlays with the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Since previous reconciliation initiatives met with failure, the government agreed to take up Pakistan’s offer of assistance in April this year, especially as relations between the two countries have improved since the restoration of democracy in 2008. At the same time, the spokespersons reiterated that for these initiatives to be successful, they must be ’Afghan led’ and ’Afghan owned’. All Afghans are invited to join the reconciliation programme, provided that they meet three basic prerequisites - respect the Afghan constitution, quit violence, and sever ties with international terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, Laskhar-e-Tayeeba and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They explained that currently, there are three types of insurgents within the Taliban cadre. Taliban’s core, a thin-minority, is physically and ideologically aligned with al-Qaeda and is unwilling to reconcile with the government. The second group comprises Pashtun nationalists who have joined the insurgency due to ethnic and tribal alienation and grievances. The third group largely comprises unemployed youth who view the insurgency as a means of employment. Clearly, baring the ideological hardcore, the rest of the Taliban can rightly be termed as moderate and should be encouraged to renounce violence and reintegrate with mainstream society. According to the spokespersons, the transition of security tasks from international forces to Afghan forces is the most crucial element of defeating the Taliban insurgency. The main plank of the insurgent group’s propaganda is its supposed role as the bulwark against ’infidel occupiers’. Therefore, it is very important to make it clear to Afghans that the United States and other countries are not to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. Equally important is for Afghans to believe that the Afghan government is in charge of security and government, and not International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). For this purpose, the transfer of security duties to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police which is to commence in July this year in seven of the country’s 34 provinces assumes significance. Members of the delegation acquainted with security related developments expressed confidence in the military aspects of the counter-insurgency campaign. They said Afghan security forces have made tremendous progress in recruitment, training and equipment in recent past. As a testament to the increased capacity of local security forces, Kabul province have been successfully secured entirely by Afghan security personnel in the past two years. On the other hand, most insurgents have either been defeated or are on the verge of defeat. Their sustenance is made possible only by virtue of safe havens, guidance and replenishment provided by the ’brotherly eastern neighbour’, they said. Besides security, the other important aspects of the transition process are governance and development. Here too, the delegation stressed that Afghan government should assume control of the various national and local programmes, instead of services being delivered by the numerous Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which undermines the legitimacy of the government. The delegation members spoke of the improvements that have taken place in Afghanistan since the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. To put things in perspective, Afghanistan was devastated by three decades of conflict whose intensity and destruction was amplified manifold by the interference of global and regional powers. The Taliban, during its five year reign, constantly fought with the Northern Alliance, and neglected governance and welfare. In this backdrop, in the past decade, the incumbent government has taken up the challenge to build capacity from scratch, and provide service to Afghans. Thousands of kilometers of roadways now connect all the major towns of the country. More than 60 percent of Afghans have access to healthcare. Beginning from nil, Afghanistan has also made tremendous progress in imparting school and higher level education. More than 80,000 children are enrolled in state-run schools. The 25 state-run higher education institutions are now complemented by more than 35 private counterparts.  Given that the Taliban discouraged any form of news and entertainment, the explosion of media outlets from a single national television network to 36 private channels is a great accomplishment, they pointed out. For the women of Afghanistan, things have changed beyond recognition since the dark days of the Taliban which had put stifling restrictions on the role of women in state and society. Women now are playing an active role in politics, government, education, health, and other sectors. For the first time in history, Afghanistan has appointed a women Governor in one of its provinces, Bamiyan. Women’s rights in national politics are safeguarded through reservation. Three women legislators have been entrusted with important ministries. In fact, more than half of Afghan children enrolled in schools are girls. Women education has increased due to several government initiatives such as girls-only schools which are open to women of all age groups, so that women who suffered during the civil war can empower themselves. Besides, women are also actively participating in diverse professions such as media and law enforcement. The delegation spoke highly of India’s role in Afghanistan and said that Afghans hold Indian citizens in high regard. When told that feelings of affinity are mutual and that Indians too have a special place for Afghans, members of the delegations recalled the goodwill they received in Mumbai, Jaipur and Ajmer-Sharif. India’s assistance in crucial sectors such as electricity, irrigation, education and road construction, worth $1.6 billion, is much appreciated by Afghans. For instance, Indian education scholarships are extremely popular among Afghan youth. Last year, 20,000 youth from all over the country applied for the 500 scholarships offered by India. Commenting on the effect of international presence in Afghanistan, the delegation opined that heavy-handed military operations, particularly collateral damage and night-time raids in village cause much distress among the ordinary folk. On the other hand, international presence has enabled formed rivals such as Rabbani and Abdur Rab Rasool Sayyaf to join hands and become part of the nation-building process. Besides, their military power and largesse also serves as  a deterrence against ’warlordism’ and infighting. When asked about China’s interests in Afghanistan, the spokespersons said  China is driven by business interests. Chinese presence is led by private companies who recently acquired rights to the country’s largest copper mines. Their actions complement the Chinese government’s interest in Afghanistan’s strategic location in the context of land routes to energy-endowed Central Asia. The interaction was chaired by Amb. HHS Viswanathan, Distinguished Fellow at Centre for International Relations, ORF. (The report is prepared by Kaustav Dhar Chakrabarti, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation)  
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