By Mirvais Tarin – former Afghan journalist.
Afghanistan remains to be a key state in the region owing to its geographical location and geopolitical reasons. The participation of representatives from 60 countries and dozens of international organizations at the international conference on Afghanistan in London witnessed that the Afghan issue is the only international problem that unites the positions of various countries across the world.
The conference in the British capital was the first important step in implementing President Hamid Karzai’s plans for financing the process of adapting the Taliban militants, who wish to break off relations with al-Qaeda. According to several assessments, there are about 25 thousand militants in Taliban units. The U.S. and its allies supported Hamid Karzai’s plans, and decided to allocate over 500 million U.S. dollars for the Taliban Reintegration Foundation at the first stage and expressed hope that talks with the Taliban militant will drive a wedge between the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
In short, the London conference could be considered as the launching pad of a project aimed at reintegrating moderate Taliban militants as Afghan citizens into the peaceful life of the country, and is also the beginning of making up a timetable for handing over Afghan law enforcement agencies the responsibility for the security in the country.
On the other hand, the ten-year presence of Western forces in Afghanistan and the anti-terrorist operation that has been carried out by them have shown that the war cannot be won militarily. And the building of a full-fledged democratic society in Afghanistan is a long-term affair. In view of this, the international community hopes that the western coalition will adopt a new strategy that should be the key to the Afghan issue.
Clearly, the basic element of this strategy should be the gradual withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan. It has been announced that the West starts to pull-out troops in summer 2011.
In short, the situation is becoming similar to that of the late 80s when Moscow withdrew its forces from Afghanistan leaving its helpless ally Dr. Najibulla to the mercy of fate. Truly, at the time, Afghanistan had 500 thousand troops and the Afghan armed forces were among the most efficient armies in the region and were well-equipped.
However, at present, the U.S. and its allies are facing a different situation. The Afghan army formed by them is poorly equipped and has not been brought up to full strength yet. Although Hamid Karzai is very popular among his voters, he is indecisive and even inconsistent in some cases. Meanwhile, the Taliban has made progress.
The West suggests handing over its mission to Afghans to avert the fate of Soviet servicemen in Afghanistan and prevent Afghanistan from turning it into Talibistan. This provides first and foremost for increasing the number of Afghan forces up to 400 thousand, putting cities and provinces of the country under the Afghan control gradually, and reintegrating Taliban militants into the peaceful life. Despite the fact that Taliban defends its positions with the assistance of terrorist attacks and does not allow weakening them, several representatives of “furious mullahs” are holding backdoor talks with Hamid Karzai’s envoys with the mediation of Arab states, including Saudi Arabia.
Clearly, Saudi Arabia exerts influence on the Taliban, and this is almost the same as Pakistan’s influence on it. In the mid 90s, it recognized the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan, and has been preserving its influence on Afghanistan to this day. In fact, Zalmai Rassoul has recently been appointed as the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan not accidentally. Some time ago, he worked in Saudi Arabia and knows the Saudi Royal Family personally.
The main conditions of Taliban for surrendering weapons and start negotiations are making amendments to the country’s constitution, the withdrawal of foreign forces, the recognition of Taliban as part of Afghan political system, opening of Taliban offices in Afghan cities, dropping the Taliban leaders from the UN Security Council’s black list and the release of all Taliban militants from prisons.
Meeting the last five conditions is a matter of time, but the fulfillment of the first one, according to legislation, depends on a decision by Loya Jirga. According to unconfirmed reports, making amendments to the Afghan constitution will be a key topic on the agenda of the “Great Afghan Congress” that will be held in coming spring. The possibility of making amendments to the constitution is quite realistic when taking into account the fact that President Karzai has more than once said he is ready to achieve peace in Afghanistan at any cost.
Hamid Karzai hopes that the implementation of his plans of national reconciliation reintegration makes it possible to attract no less than 70 percent of Afghan Taliban supporters to peaceful life. Most likely, this process will be started from the regions that will come under the Afghan army’s control.
Afghan society shows a mixed response to the integration of moderate Taliban supporters. The presidential election showed that people in the country oppose the ideas of Taliban actively and openly, but the refusal by 50 percent of the population to participate in the election reflects the influence of Taliban on society and its prestige.
Time will show to what extent the West strategy of conciliation can be applied to Afghanistan. In view of this it’s worth mentioning that there is a political precedent in Afghanistan. After 2001, the U.S. and its allies could disarm and integrate, mojaheads, the bloody enemies of the times of Soviet presence and civil wars, by exerting pressure and pursuing multifactor policy actively. The leaders or representatives of mojahead groups, which were fighting against each other earlier, are now working together in the government and attend sessions of the Afghan parliament.
Western politicians hope that old political recipes concerning the Taliban together with the military operation aimed at forcing it to agree on peace will be effective.
In case of the implementation of the new western plan and the withdrawal of coalition forces, it will be inevitable that the Taliban will integrate with the existing democratic bodies of Afghanistan.
Time will show whether Taliban’s Middle Age ideas can cooperate successfully with the democratic ideas or function in the Afghan society, of course. Clearly, the chief political architect of contemporary Afghanistan, the U.S. will play a role of “onlooker” at its military bases for another dozens of years under the pretence of the importance of the region and instability in the nuclear weapon possessing countries neighbouring with Afghanistan, especially, Pakistan.