Afghan peace process will bring anything but peace
By Michael Hughes
A Pakistani-brokered power-sharing arrangement between President Hamid Karzai’s reprobate government and the Taliban will be detrimental to the interests of most Afghans, to put it mildly. Such a marriage would consolidate power into the hands of a predatory few, would exclude Afghan civil society and would lack all political and moral legitimacy. Although it’s highly unlikely Karzai and the Taliban will be able to secure and adhere to a long-term peace deal, the power struggle itself will be destabilizing.
The Afghan High Peace Council (HPC), led by its Islamist chairman Salahuddin Rabbani, asked Pakistani officials during a visit to Islamabad last week to bring Taliban leaders to the negotiating table. Cooperation on this matter underlines the fact Pakistan knows where to find and how best to cajole Taliban figures, which isn’t much of a revelation considering the Taliban have operated as Pakistan’s extended expeditionary force since the 1990s.
But Islamabad’s involvement in the process alone is a major impediment because most Afghans have grown weary of Pakistan undermining Afghan self-determination. It is no secret that Pakistan is eager to realize its vision of installing an Islamic hardline regime in Kabul that would be hostile towards India. The HPC has not been in contact with any Taliban truly empowered to speak on behalf of its members, partly because Pakistan demands on being the chief interlocutor.
Yet the Karzai regime will also be hard-pressed to find someone to negotiate with because the Taliban movement is fragmented amongst three main disparate factions: the Haqqani Network, the Quetta Shura and Hezb-e-Islami. The withdrawal of the infidel invader could undermine the insurgency’s coherence, which currently seems driven by the exigencies of war, just as the Peshawar Seven disintegrated after the Soviets exited in 1989.
The HPC lacks a mandate to speak on behalf of the Afghan people, given that it’s stacked with warlords and extremists and devoid of any moderate voices. President Karzai turned the reconciliation process into an exercise in futility from the outset by selecting Burhanuddin Rabbani to head the council, who was assassinated in September 2011 and replaced by his son Salahuddin. Rabbani was a Tajik warlord with a significant amount of Pashtun blood on his hands sent to negotiate a settlement with members of a Pashtun-dominated insurgency.
The very premise of the negotiations is misguided, for it encompasses providing disproportionate sway to a group of religious fanatics who represent a small percentage of the Afghan population. The HPC’s agenda has been a mystery and one wonders what concessions the council’s leaders are willing to make in order to reconcile with the Taliban. Will they negotiate away hard-fought gains including women’s education, representative government and other basic human rights – like listening to music?
Karzai seems more than willing to forgo transitional justice, as he has in the past, and allow war criminals and violent radicals to secure leadership positions, engendering a culture of impunity that has plagued Afghanistan for over 30 years. In fact, Karzai seems to be preparing the way for the Taliban evidenced by his support for primitive laws proposed by his ulama council that would eradicate many rights currently enshrined in the Afghan constitution.
Pakistan and the Taliban have waited for more than a decade for the U.S. to leave, so it’s hard to believe they will suddenly be willing to partake in peaceful negotiations as NATO’s exit draws near. Even if Pakistan is able to convince the Taliban to strike a bargain, it is fair to wonder why a group whose sole mission is establishing a mini-Caliphate would remain in a coalition government for any extensive period, regardless if Karzai shares the Taliban’s medieval belief system.
Not to mention, northern minority militias are certain to resist any arrangement that gifts power to the Taliban, which is why many fear an ethnic civil war will erupt after the international coalition departs. Elements of the old Northern Alliance have begun to rearm just at the thought of the Afghan government negotiating with their sworn enemy.
U.S. leaders, for their part, would be willing to accept even a tenuous partnership as long as it provided a modicum of stability so they can withdraw troops with good conscience. However, by propping up Afghanistan’s primarily non-Pashtun central army, it appears the U.S. is preparing for a long-term proxy war with Pakistan and isn’t putting much faith in Karzai and the Taliban forging a sustainable relationship.
The dialogue must be expanded to include representatives of Afghan civil society including moderate Muslims, scholars, technocrats, political party leaders, tribal elders, women and other minority groups. The current process is being dominated by extremists and militants while lacking input from nonviolent members of the Afghan polity – i.e., those best suited to arrive at an equitable settlement.
Michael Hughes is a journalist and policy analyst for Examiner.com, The Huffington Post and the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC), an indigenous Afghan think tank. For similar articles go to www.HughesWorldNews.com.