Thomas Ruttig has written a useful summary of the state of 'negotiations' between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Battle for Afghanistan: Negotiations with the Taliban; History and Prospects for the Future, published by the New America Foundation, notes that for the first time last year the Karzai government admitted that there was contact with Taliban leaders, although it played them down as unsubstantial not leading to any concrete results: "Without doubt, contacts between the Karzai government and individual insurgents exist, but they have not been systematized and there is still no comprehensive strategy for going forward on talks or even negotiations on reconciliation" says Ruttig.
He says NATO has also confirmed that it has facilitated the talks, presumably by giving guarantees for interlocutors and Taliban officials. At the same time, its kill-and-capture programme aimed at Taliban leaders appears to be going against the whole idea of reconciliation, with the added danger that by killing Taliban leaders who want to negotiate, the future will be left to younger and more radicalised leaders.
Ruttig says the High Peace Council, consisting of 70 members nominated by President Karzai has little credibility with ordinary Afghans, who perceive it as a body aimed at achieving a 'Pashtun' settlement, at the expense of other minorities and women.
A fourth point made by Ruttig is that the Pakistani authorities have stopped denying that they support (and largely control) the Afghan Taliban. They can 'deliver' Taliban leaders to peace talks or they can stop them, as in the case of Mullah Abdul Ghani Barodar, who was arrested by the Pakistanis for taking part in negotiations without their say-so. This stranglehold that Pakistan exerts over the Taliban, for its own purposes, is resented by many members of the organisation.
Ruttig recommends that peace negotiations should continue, but that it is vital that they discuss all the core causes of the conflict. Initially this would be involve international organisations 'holding the hand' of the Afghan institutions, but later it would be important that Afghans themselves were seen to be leading the process. "Talks with insurgents–direct or indirect–would be only one part of the overall reconciliation process, which would be aimed at reaching an initial political settlement to end violence, creating transitional institutions to pursue the process, and providing a mechanism for constitutional and institutional reform," says Ruttig.
He also advocates bringing in other regional powers such as Russia and China into the negotiations and moving the United States away from a policy of 'talking and shooting' to 'talking instead of shooting.' He says the High Peace Council should be reformed by broadening participation and creating checks and balances.
Confidence building measures such as dropping UN sanctions against Taliban leaders and releasing imprisoned members of the organisation should be speeded up.
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