Following the Soviet departure, Afghanistan descended into a state of chaos. Will this happen in 2014, when the US troops draw out of the country finally? Back when the Soviet withdrawal took place, Afghanistan was embroiled in ferocious battles that took place between the warlords and the Taliban. The latter emerged the victor, although warlords still continue to thrive in the region. When the United States’ troops leave Afghanistan, there is a concern that Afghanistan may sink into a state of disarray. Defeating the Taliban was concluded as being an “impossible” feat, about two years ago.
This consequently brought about a cache of wary efforts towards finding means and ways to deal with them, engaging them politically. The efforts have sped up now, with the US government being keen on leaving the country behind in a state that would have some sense of political achievement following the military intervention. Talks with the Taliban took place a while back in Chantilly, France. A High Peace Council Proposal called A Road Map for 2015 was leaked, bearing the date November 2012. Both these events offer a window into the upside and the downside to negotiations.
The rounds in Chantilly gave the Taliban room to express its views publicly, albeit only representing a current position that is not necessarily going to remain the same. The Taliban spokesmen who represented Mullah Omar, professed willingness to work with other Afghan Parties, and suggested a proclivity towards accepting the governmental structure as it stands now, and accepting girls’ schools, if run in an ‘Islamic Way’. The flipside, though, comes in the form of a stubborn demand that they wish to rewrite the Constitution, “accept” the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and what appears a rather imminent possibility – to strive towards dominating the newly established Afghan institutions.
Nevertheless, despite all shortcomings one might be reading into the lines, it is definitely a positive fact that through these negotiations, the Taliban went public with their stance. This is in itself, a bright spot in the peace process. Behind the scenes, it appears, drawing from the High Peace Council Roadmap that was leaked, that the Chantilly talks were deeply embedded in a bunch of background negotiations. The Roadmap speaks of different stages in the peace process: An end to cross-border shelling of villages; The release of designated Taliban from Pakistani prisons; Giving the Taliban positions in the power structures of the state; A Taliban announcement of severing ties with the al-Qaeda and the renewal of negotiations for safe passage. Save for the announcement relating to the al-Qaeda, most else was achieved considerably. Pakistan’s government did release a few Taliban prisoners just before the Chantilly rounds. What is also encouraging is that the Taliban did indicate considerable flexibility on other critical issues towards internal reconciliation.
Much of what the roadmap speaks of comprises proposals for agreements between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Most of these pivot towards ending violence, reintegrating ex-combatants and security sector reform. Much of this could have been non-controversial, except that some of these provisions can raise flag for Afghanistan’s neighbours, and opposition groups. Including the Taliban in ministerial positions and governmental offices in pursuit of the request for their inclusion in the power structure of the state could wind up resulting in a de facto handing of power. By this, the proposal will risk alienating many political parties and much of civil society. Strengthening the ANSF, as well, can become a reason to polarize the polity on the grounds of ethnicity. The roadmap has also mentioned the need for regular monitoring and consultations with countries that have a significant influence over the Taliban, either directly or through Pakistan. But what it forgets is the need for consultations with Afghanistan’s neighbours – they have a stake in the process and the outcome, too.