Yet another report that appears to challenge the military orthodoxy that dominates decision making in Afghanistan. Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghan Analysts Network (AAN), has just published The Other Side: Dimensions of the Afghan Insurgency: Causes, Actors andApproaches to ‘Talks’ which offers a detailed analysis of the Afghan insurgency.
The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) says it is a non-profit, independent policy research organisation that aims to bring together the knowledge, experience and drive of a large number of experts to better inform policy and to increase the understanding of Afghan realities.
Ruttig notes the complexity of the insurgency, pointing out that it is made up of seven separate armed components. Four of these comprise the Taliban, which is made up of the Kandahari mainstream, the Haqqani and Mansur families and the Tora Bora front in eastern Afghanistan based on the remnants of Heb-e Islami (Khales). While there are differences, they all bear allegiance to Mullah Omar.
In addition, there are two other armed insurgent organisations, Hezb-e Islami Afghanistan led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and small Salafi Islamist groups operating in Eastern Afghanistan.
The seventh and final segment, much more recent, is a cluster of former mujahidin groups that feel alienated from the post 2001 political process and that have adopted a Taliban-like modus operandi, but who act independently of each other. "These organisations and groups do not consider Mullah Omar as their leader", says Ruttig. "In the field, however, they occasionally cooperate and coordinate with local Taliban. This includes joint 0perations, the use of the Taliban ‘label’ by other groups (e.g. on , ‘nightletters’, used to threaten the population or individuals) and unwritten, mutual non-aggression agreements".
Ruttig notes that while the Taliban is still a predominantly Pashtun movement, its appeal amongst non-Pashtun groups is increasing. This, he says, is due to a deepening sense of occupation and enormous growing anger about the behaviour of foreign forces ,which has already brought groups closer to the insurgency that earlier had supported international engagement in Afghanistan. "If this trend continues and ideologically different elements feel compelled to join, the insurgency has the potential to develop beyond ethnic boundaries and religious differences into an even broader Afghan nationalist movement."
Faced with a growing and heterogeneous insurgency, says Ruttig, it is necessary to develop differentiated political approaches to achieve stability. Pure counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency techniques will not succeed. He advocates developing multi-layered contacts (‘talks’) with different elements of the insurgency in order to differentiate between the motivations, aims and demands of its different components.
However, a ‘talks’ approach must be embedded in a broader ‘reconciliation’ strategy. The Afghan state itself is part of the problem and therefore cannot play a significant role in initiating either the short-term peace talks or long-term reconciliation. Instead, the best facilitator of ‘talks’ would be the UN in close cooperation with either a group of its Islamic member-states or the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
At the same time, the international community should focus on supporting pro-reform
and pro-democracy forces who are needed as stabilisers within Afghan society following the likely inclusion of additional Islamist forces as the result of a possible political accommodation.