Rapprochement with the Taliban: Is it Tenable?

Akram Gizabi – Feb 23, 2012 |

Are the Taliban a terrorist group? Is the country that harbors and nurtures them on the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism? The answers to both of these questions are obvious and need not require any elaboration. What does however necessitate scrutiny and expansion is why the Obama administration is so keen to support rapprochement with the Taliban as well as their primary sponsor and indirect supporters alike? Moreover, would it not be logical to talk to the sponsors (i.e., benefactors) rather than the sponsored?

In the case of the Taliban, has anything changed since 911 and the subsequent US attack on Afghanistan which lead to the toppling of the Taliban regime? If anything, the Taliban have become increasingly ruthless if not blatantly barbaric in their tactics and operations.  Meanwhile US  casualties grew from just 12 in 2001 to an alarming 566 in 2011 alone—an increase of over 4,716%. By comparison Afghan civilian casualties are estimated to be more than 2,700 in 2010 alone.

2011 also saw a direct attack on the American embassy in Kabul. How much more hostility can an unsympathetic group inflict before the US decides to move against them decisively including their interlocutors? It should be mentioned that the individual Talibs that attacked the US embassy had last minute direct contact with its foreign backers who are an off-again-on-again US ally in the war on terror.

It is highly premature at this point to not call the Taliban an enemy. If the Taliban are not the US adversary as claimed by US vice president Joe Biden, then what is the US doing in Afghanistan? There is no Al Qaeda in the country and the Afghan government for all its ills is not an adversary of the US. The Afghan opposition has no grudge against the US in Afghanistan. Why is the US and NATO spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually in Afghanistan?

Given the Taliban and their supporters’ track record, it is indeed extremely naïve to think that the fundamentalist group and their backers have been reformed or at the very least mellowed in their views on Islam and or geo-politics. The Taliban are an ideologically driven group whose every move is determined by the deviant version of its religious belief. They unequivocally live by their beliefs and they die by them without any remorse for the thousands of innocent lives they take along with them. They send zealots of all rank and files from foot soldiers to supposedly top negotiators who in fact murdered the former head of the Afghan high peace council to blow themselves and their targets up. The Taliban are resistant to change. The mere possibility of considering reform is regarded heretic and therefore anyone who may espouse or merely consider the idea is liable to death.

Rapprochement with the Taliban is fraught with a lot of misconceptions: from an Afghan standpoint, approaching the Taliban is faced with a dichotomy. From the Afghan government’s perspective albeit dominated by Pashtun nationalists,   it is desirable because it reunites the Pashtuns, possibly at the expense of the rest of the population. President Hamid Karzai has called the Taliban his brothers on numerous occasions. If he can secure an agreement with the Taliban it will be his greatest achievement regardless of the price and or long-term consequences. His mandate is not to bring peace to Afghanistan but to unite and strengthen the Pashtuns exclusively.

To the majority of the people of Afghanistan: the Tajiks, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks, the Turkmens, the Nooristanis, the Baloches and the Pashiies, the return of the Taliban in whatever shape or form is fraught with concern and despair. The massacres of the Hazaras in Mazar-e-Sharif, Bamian and Yakawlang, the Tajiks in Shomali north of Kabul and the Uzbeks and Turkmens in the north during the reign of the Taliban are still fresh in the memory of the people. There are hundreds of thousands of people who lost their loved ones, their properties and their total livelihood as a result of the plunders and scorched earth policies of the Taliban and their local and foreign cohorts. The majority of these ethnic groups are against including the Taliban in the government or the concept of any power sharing arrangement with them.

As part of the recent negotiations in Qatar, the US is to release certain Taliban leaders from Guantanamo and take off the names of others from the US list of most wanted terrorists. Releasing the Taliban leaders such as Mullah Fazl from Guantanamo is akin to releasing Ratco Melodic. As the Taliban deputy defense minister and chief of staff of the army, it is estimated that Mullah Fazl killed more innocent civilians than Melodic ever did. Yet, it is ironic that the former, instead of being put on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, is to be released to lead or take part in the Taliban negotiating team, while the latter is currently being tried in the international court of justice for the crimes he committed against Muslims in Bosnia.

More ironic is the fact that Osama bin Laden is killed and his demise is announced with a lot of fanfare by the US administration, while his brother in law Mullah Mohammad Omar is being taken off the list of the most wanted terrorists. It was indeed Mullah Omar who gave sanctuary to bin Laden and facilitated his terrorist operations and planning. If bin Laden is responsible for the killings of more than three thousand people in the US and Africa, Mullah Omar is responsible for not only the killing of an estimated 30,000 people but also the physical destruction of Afghanistan’s most treasured heritage e.g., the demise of the statues of Buddha in Bamyan.

Now from a moral vantage point: do the US military/political deeds follow any principles, norms or standards or the US indicts, arrests, imprisons, tries/pardons anyone that it wants arbitrarily and haphazardly? What is the rational in killing bin Laden and yet declaring Mullah Omar not an enemy? If it is the killings of innocent people, Mullah Omar has killed more than bin Laden. If it is only the killing of Americans, that is something else. Why do we arrest Melodic and release or plan to release Mullah Fazl?

And finally, why do we talk to the Taliban? Is it to bring peace to Afghanistan or facilitate the withdrawal of US soldiers beginning in 2014? If it is bringing peace to Afghanistan, it would fail without the participation of the non-Pashtun population of the country who by any estimate represent more than 60%. For a non-Pashtun Afghan to accept the Taliban resurgence or domination in Afghanistan, it would be tantamount to suicide and a rational person would not commit suicide—the Taliban being the exception of course. Even if the non-Pashtuns of Afghanistan are to be included in negotiations with the Taliban, it would be foolhardy to envisage a Dayton type accord between the Afghan sides. Former Yugoslavia is not a good blue print for Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a tribal society where suspicion and hatred runs far and deep.

On a final note, the very nature of the so-called negotiations is not clear. Negotiation among who? If the US is to talk to the Taliban, according to US Vice President Biden, they are not the enemy of the US. If the Taliban would agree not to attack the Americans, would that be a success? What about the Afghan government and other Afghans? The Taliban have repeatedly said that they will not talk to the Afghan government because they consider it to be a “stooge” regime. What about the Taliban themselves? They are the product of the Pakistan ISI. Would it not be better to talk to Pakistan directly than to talk to its proxy as the Taliban could not decide anything without the consent of Pakistan? Would it not be efficient and merely prudent to just talk to Pakistan itself and bypass the Taliban and rather even exclude the government in Kabul?  As Afghan history can attest any formula for peace without the consent of all Afghans is doomed to fail.

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Akram Gizabi

The writer is a former VOA journalist. He is an analyst on Hazaras, Afghanistan, and South Asia. Twitter: @AGizabi

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