Perspectives on Reconciliation in Afghanistan
Current Developments, Positions, Pakistan’s Contributions, Necessary Steps
Minister Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai,
Ambassador Guenter Overfled, Vice President EastWest Institute, Brussels,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I express deep gratitude to the EastWest Institute and Abu Dhabi government for providing yet another opportunity to delegates from Pakistan and Afghanistan to share their thoughts with each other on reconciliation process with the Taliban.
Let me also express gratitude to the Afghan government for the warm welcome it extended to the participants from Pakistan. The traditional Afghan hospitality remains unmatched.
This morning, I will limit my comments to a few personal observations.
Since our first meeting in Abu Dhabi in June 2010, the idea of reconciliation has seen more acceptability. Domestic and external opposition to it has dampened and the process itself has shaped up.
The realism that integration without reconciliation is not sustainable is also better recognized.
However, there were some negative developments during this period. Conflicting and at times shifting policies and actions of some stakeholders have created new dilemmas. Many have argued that this has strengthened the insurgency both in its intensity and outreach.
Talking to the Taliban is not a new idea. Over the years, representatives of the Afghan government and components of ISAF have been dealing – or making deals – with them.
For example, NATO routinely pays off to the Taliban through its contractors for safe passage of its supplies. These payoffs are the second largest source of the Taliban funding following their cut in drug production and trafficking. If buying security from the Taliban for war supplies is kosher, why should there be hesitation in talking to them in the interest of peace in Afghanistan?
The older leadership of the Taliban is fast disappearing. They are giving way to a new generation of fighters. To a large extent, these Neo-Taliban are an unknown and possibly a more violent entity. It is easier to deal with the people you know than the ones you don’t.
Law and order and governance issues are projected as major causes of insurgency by the West but it ignores other and more relevant factors that fuel the insurgency.
No assessment whether strategic or tactical is valid without taking into consideration the ground realities.
The Taliban incursions into Northern Afghanistan started last year after reports of mysterious helicopter movements. These incursions intensified in last one year after Pakistan’s military operations in the Taliban infested areas. The porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is left un-managed which makes it easier for smugglers, drug traffickers, common criminals and now terrorists to join over 52,000 Afghans who cross this border every day.
Several problems faced on both sides of the border - though not all - could be addressed by simply managing this border. Both sides have failed to manage this border. Managing the border may look costly but it would payoff in terms of improved security and economic development on both sides. I must hasten to add that by no means I am suggesting the closure, or even unnecessarily stringent control, of this border: I firmly believe that high frequency of border crossings is welcome. This is a high point in our bilateral relations.
Conflicts could mostly be resolved by reconciliation. Pakistan supports President Karzai’s position on reconciliation. Our own attempts to negotiate with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) failed miserably, but they helped in veining the popular support away from the Taliban. Efforts for reconciliation will bring dividend even if they fail.
Fighting is possible all the time: window of opportunity for reconciliation has limitations.
Time is running out on us because public opinion in the US and Europe is losing interest in the Afghan campaign. It is important to take necessary measures to initiate negotiations before the world walks away or its attention is diverted to some new crisis. Modern history is replete with examples of sudden shifts in US policies towards the developing world.
Also, one should not ignore the developments taking place right under our noses: people are suffering and are getting tired of the conflict. The war may benefit some but it causes misery to many.
We should not let the time run out on us. Without sacrificing achievements of the past few years, the process of reconciliation needs to move forward. If former Jihadists from Shura Nazar to Hizb-e-Isami can join the secularists and former communists as stakeholders in the political system of Afghanistan, the Taliban could also be brought on board.
Thank you very much for the attention. I will welcome your comments and further elaborate my views if required.