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Talking to Taliban-A Road Ahead

Thursday 1 August 2013, by Manish Rai

New Delhi- Efforts to end the longest American war in history are accelerating. America’s war in Afghanistan risks continuing beyond 2014 when the United States wants to pull out. To accomplish that they require a graceful exit strategy and a stable Afghanistan. But this is nearly impossible without talking to the Taliban. After fighting for 12 long years, the United States, and the Taliban are now at the negotiating table as both sides are realize the importance of dialogue.
The basic cause of the US-Taliban conflict has been structural miscommunication i.e. fundamental differences exit in each other’s perceptions, understanding, and culture. Both sides never understood each other but feared each other, which has been reflected in their dangerous behaviour toward each other.
The U.S feared attacks and hosting of its enemies by the Taliban and retaliated with its sophisticated military technology. The Taliban see the US as invaders and a threat to its cultural values. They respond with indiscriminate violence against NATO and Afghan forces across the country by its dedicated and motivated base of supporters, which has good knowledge of the region.
Both sides now realize that a lasting solution to this conflict can be through talks only. For instance, America realises that the Taliban has a strong influence with Pasthun tribe, which consists of 46 million people and is the world’s largest tribe. Taliban ideology has deep roots in Afghanistan and Northwest Pakistan where Pasthun tribes reside.
On the other hand, the Taliban also know that they cannot beat the might of the world’s largest military alliance of 28 countries, NATO. The Taliban know that at most they can destabilise the country with their guerrilla attacks but they cannot overrun it as they did in 1994-96, as long as NATO has a strong military presence in Afghanistan. So, indulging in dialogue is now a viable option for both the parties.
Some bottlenecks still exist in this proposed peace process. One is the position of Afghan President Hamid Karzai who feels his authority is being undermined and that he is being side-lined in these talks. But peace must be the primary concern which, for sure, Mr. Karzai alone can’t deliver.
Another issue is the conservative and orthodox nature of the Taliban movement, whose adamant attitude over issues like the education of women and other women’s rights, widespread education, strict implementation of Sharia, and the rejection of democracy which can hinder the talks.

Both the United States and Taliban, at least for now, look serious about talking. When the Taliban opened their political office in Qatar’s capital city of Doha it was the first time in a dozen years that the world had gotten to see the insurgents’ inner circle, and they seemed different. Urban and educated, they conducted interviews in foreign languages, like English, Arabic, French, and German with easy fluency and appeared more willing to negotiate. One member of the Quetta Sura (the highest decision making body of the Afghan Taliban), while talking to the media, said all the representatives who are selected and sent to Qatar for talks belong to the political wing and are selected by the top leadership. None have a military background.
He added, “We don’t need to send commanders as we are not going to fight in Doha.”
The US is taking these proposed talks seriously, as it appointed senior diplomats for the process and tried to persuade all the stakeholders to participate. The US delegation to the Taliban talks will be led by Douglas Lute, Obama’s Chief advisor on Afghanistan, and James Dobbins, the State Department’s new special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. It clearly shows, that this time, the White House wants to closely monitor the talks.
Back home in Afghanistan though some contradictions exist. Fierce fighting is still occurring. Taliban fighters wage suicide attacks, attack government establishments, and ambush NATO convoys. These contradictions offer a picture of the top Taliban leadership taking advantage of two different tracks— orchestrating the fighting elements while setting up a new international diplomatic foothold in Doha. Following political and military options questions the relevancy of the peace talks. But to some, it just seems like a tactic to exert pressure for getting a good deal during negotiations.
When the previous effort to open a Taliban office in Qatar collapsed in March 2012, many analysts saw that as a result of a split between military and political Taliban officials, but some Western officials also note that when Mullah Omar and his closest aides make a decision it does seem to get carried out. They think that this time the decision has come from the top leadership.
If both the United States and the Taliban negotiate with open minds and without pre-conceived notions about each other, and Afghanistan neighbours, especially Pakistan play a positive role in this reconciliation process, then perhaps this time a concrete peace plan will emerge. This will help the millions of Afghans who have been crushed and devastated because of this bloody long war. Moreover it will add to the stability and security of the region as a stable Afghanistan is very much required, not only for the security of its neighbouring countries, but for whole world. However, if this new peace process turns out to be a just a futile exercise then nobody knows how many more years it will take to build another stage for talks, as there will be a trust deficit for both the sides which will take a long time to fill.

(Author is freelance columnist based in New Delhi and can be reached at manishraiva gmail.com)

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