Reconciling the Afghan Analyst Network

Edward Kenney Afghanistan Study Group

How confident should we be that the supposed reconciliation talks are going to succeed?  Why don’t we check with the folks from the Afghan Analysts Network?

Thomas Ruttig is not too optimistic:

It is even not clear whether every actor involved in the [Taliban peace talks] really wants peace: The US military continues to try crushing the Taliban militarily and possibly to avoid substantial talks. The Taliban have started their own kill campaign of key Afghan security forces leaders, particularly of Northern provenience.

This analysis comes after a recent Karzai speech in which the president declared ongoing peace talks for the first time between the U.S. and Taliban, a move that was widely portrayed positively in western media.  In Afghanistan, as Ruttig’s observations epitomize, things are seldom what they seem:  Karzai’s emphasis on American led negotiations directly contradicts the State Department’s repeated assurances that any peace deal will be Afghan led.  Then there is a little matter of the Tayyab Agha talks in Berlin, which were allegedly leaked to journalists from the presidential palace.

Ruttig concludes:  Every day on which they do not seriously work towards genuine and inclusive talks, with the Taliban and those who oppose them, armed or not, diminishes the chances for a peaceful solution.

Compared to Ruttig, Ahmad Shuja, a guest blogger for the Afghan Analysts Network, is slightly more optimistic.  Shuja has been following former Northern Alliance intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, who has been one of the most vocal opponents of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, at one point going so far as to lead protests against prospective peace talks.   Shuja sees Saleh changing his tune in a recent op-ed, and opening the door a crack for prospective talks:

In this new language, Saleh is indicating a shift from his previous position of adamantly opposing any kind of talks with the Taliban… Saleh has been one of the leaders of a movement against talks with the Taliban and is thought to have lost his job as NDS chief because of a disagreement on this subject with President Karzai.

This new rhetoric is an improvement, albeit a marginal one.  Many of Saleh’s demands seem a little far fetched, such as his insistence that the Taliban disarm or pushing for investigations into human rights abuses over the past twenty years (a timeframe which includes the Afghan Civil War in the 1990s).   Sounds like a good idea, except that virtually all of the perpetrators remain in key positions of power.   I’m not sure that either the Afghan government or the Taliban will ever embrace Saleh’s views.

But not to worry, if reconciliation doesn’t work out, at least we still have a successful “reintegration program” to fall back on.  Just listen to this glowing endorsement from a recently reintegrated Taliban fighter:

“In the last five months I have received none of what they promised me: no salary, no good accommodations. Those who are fighting now say: ‘Your men are jobless. What have you achieved?’ ”

God save us.

I’ll leave former British Ambassador Sherard Cowper- Coles with the last word on reconciliation from his brilliant interview with LA Times:  When asked whether a reduction of forces will improve chances at a peace deal, here was the Ambassador’s response:

It’s a question of showing the Taliban you’re serious about wanting an honorable peace for all the internal parties to the Afghan conflict [and] also all the regional parties…. The Taliban know that they’re not going to win total victory; they know they’re never again going to rule the whole of Afghanistan.”

Right now, there is a surplus of rhetoric (most of it self-serving crazy talk) and a deficit of trust.  As Ambassador Cowper-Coles correctly illustrates, for any peace deal to have a remote chance of success, this dynamic has to change.

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