With the Afghan conflict almost completing a fourth decade, there is an urgent need for peace. In 2005, the re-emergence of the insurgency became a serious challenge for the Afghan government and the international community. The question is how serious the stakeholders, mainly the government and the anti-government elements (AGEs) are, in relation to bringing long-lasting stability in the country. The Afghan government has made multiple attempts to end the chronic conflict. However, the insurgents do not seem so interested in peace. The Afghan government with the support of international community has taken two major initiatives.
The first initiative was the establishment of a Peace and Reconciliation Commission (PRC) in 2005, led by former president and a spiritual leader, Hazrat Sebghatullah Mujaddidi. Admittedly, the PRC did lack a clear peace agenda. There were conflicting views on what needed to be done with militant leaders such as Mullah Omar, of the Taliban, and Gulbudin Hekmatyar, of Hizbi Islami of Gulbudin (HIG) and others. Afghan officials including President Hamid Karzai and Mujaddidi favored amnesty. One of the proposals was to release cooperating militants from Afghan and American prisons, including Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Airbase. The main criteria to join the peace process were to lay down weapons, respect the Afghan constitution and government, and return to civilian life. The Americans were reluctant to release the militants, fearing their re-engagement in terrorist activities. But the Afghans were thirsty for peace.
The Taliban response was rather different. In return they expedited their assaults on Afghan and international forces. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission (UNAMA), between 2001 to 2005 there had been only 7 suicide attacks across the county whereas in 2006 there were 123, and halfway through 2007 there were 77 suicide bombings. These attacks targeted mainly the Afghan and foreign military. However, a substantial number of civilians were indiscriminately killed. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that some 929 Afghan civilians died in 2006 by the Pro Government Forces (PGFs), including International Security Assistance Mission (ISAF) forces, and AGEs. Some 699 of the deaths were attributed to suicide bombings and attacks by the AGEs. In 2007, the number jumped to a minimum of 1,633 civilian deaths, and 950 of deaths were caused by the insurgents.
After the failure of the PRC to bring the AGEs to the negotiating table, the Afghan government took a second initiative and established a High Peace Council (HPC). This was in early 2010 after a Consultative Loya Jirga (Great Council) was held in Kabul. Some 2000 Afghan political elites, provincial representatives and civil society members attended the Jirga to discuss ways to reach peace. The Jirga passed a resolution which laid out a framework for negotiations with “the dissatisfied groups” and requested international support for the Afghan peace process.
Little has changed since the beginning of the HPC. The Taliban and their associates, including the Pakistani-based Haqqani Network, have continued their murderous attacks affecting the lives of many Afghans. In 2011, the UNAMA documented some 3,021 deaths, that is an 8% increase over 2010 and 25% more than 2009 retrospectively. Some 2,332 of the deaths were attributed to the AGEs while the remaining was caused by the PGFs.
On Sep13 2011, the Haqqani Network attacked the US embassy in Kabul leaving 11 civilian deaths including 6 children. The Network is also accused of the 2008 attacks on the Indian embassy, where 54 people died. In the month after the US embassy bombing, two Talib commanders assassinated Afghan chief peace negotiator, and head of the HPC, Professor Burhanudin Rabbani. In May 2012 another senior member of the HPC, Mullah Arsala Rahmani, was assassinated by gunmen. However, the Taliban did not claim responsibility. Most recently, on June 6, two suicide bombers detonated themselves and killed some 20 Afghan civilians in the southern city of Kandahar.
The ultimate goal of the insurgents has been to terrorize people and undermine the Afghan government’s and international community’s efforts towards creating a democratic society. Reminding us of their hostility towards women, they have poisoned hundreds of female students by putting toxic chemicals in school water wells and tanks.
The Taliban’s militant strategy to reach to power has also its side effects. Every day, lives are lost on both sides of the war. As an indirect result, NATO unilateral airstrikes have taken hundreds of civilian lives over the past years. A recent case was on 6 June in Logar province where 18 civilians were killed.
Clearly, many insurgents favor fighting over negotiating peace. In a report by The Office of Director of National Intelligence, some 95 of 599 from Guantanamo rejoined insurgent groups fighting the American interest around the world. Some extra 72 are suspected of reengaging in terrorist activities. The number does not sound huge; only 15.9% are actually engaging and 12% are suspected of getting involved in militancy, nevertheless it shows that there are elements in the insurgency circles who are not interested in peace at all.
If the Taliban were serious about peace, they would have laid down their weapons and participated in the Afghan political process, an act encouraged by the Afghan government and people. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the Jehadi groups (holy warriors who fought the Russians) went through the Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program moderated by the UN. The Taliban could have gone through the same process. All this could have also halted NATO airstrikes on Afghan villages where innocent lives are lost in almost every assault. Moreover, the Taliban position on peace talks varies from groups to individuals. There is no single contact point where the Afghan government and international stakeholders can refer to for reconciliation talks.
A majority of Afghans do not support the return of a Talibani regime but if the Taliban want to take part in the political process, by denouncing violence, Afghans would have no objection to their participation. Many Afghans know that the Taliban will not win the executive office as they do not enjoy the support of overwhelming majority of people. However, they might win in local elections for house and senate seats and can then participate in Afghan politics.
But what happens if the Taliban want to continue fighting? The Afghan government and international community should set aside their appeasement policies towards insurgents. Inevitably, military assaults should be expedited. Insurgent safe heavens should be targeted in and outside of Afghanistan accurately and coordinated so as to avoid civilian casualties. In the process, Afghan security forces should be fully equipped and trained to fight insurgency after 2014.
Note: in this article the term Taliban, insurgents and terrorist have been used interchangeably, in the author’s view there is little difference between them and they all support each other. As former Taliban Political Committee Chief, Agha Jan Mutasem said in his interview on June 1, 2012 with BBC Persian “The Haqqani Network is an inseparable part of the Taliban.”