Reconciliation and Trust Building in Afghanistan

The United Nations, the United States, the Afghan government, and many other countries and entities have been very busy right now paving way for a reconciliation plan with the Taliban- likely to be announced at an important international forum: the London conference for Afghanistan, on Thursday, Jan. 28.

For his part, the U.N. special representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, 'towards a first step to opening direct negotiations with the insurgent group, sought the removal of at least some senior Taliban leaders from the United Nations' list of terrorists,' The New York Times reported on Jan. 24.

The next day, BBC reported that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, 'told Financial Times newspaper that there had been "enough fighting."' And that 'political solution in all conflicts was "inevitable."'

Inevitably, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan had to outline a strategy for this whole reconciliation and reintegration plan. On Jan. 17, his spokesman, Waheed Omar, told a news conference that followers of the Taliban who defect will be offered jobs and security. Later, President Karzai himself provided more explanation and said: 'Through a national reconciliation strategy, we want to absorb the Taliban fighters who don't have links with Al Qaeda network and other terrorist groups.'

The response from the opposite side was clear: The Taliban militants launched a brazen attack on central Kabul, very close to the Palace where President Karzai was busy in preparing his reconciliation plan. The day-long standoff came to an end after three security men and two civilians were killed and 71 more injured. The attack was not very important in terms of casualties, but had much bigger impacts in terms of creating chaos and challenging the huge presence of the international and Afghan forces in a heavily fortified central part of the city.

Contrary to that, the response from a former jihadi warlord and currently wanted terrorist leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was softer and inviting. Instead of launching an armed attack, he released a taped statement in which, according to the Wall Street Journal, he outlined a roadmap for political reconciliation. President Karzai has included one of Hekmatyar's former party members, Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal, in his new cabinet which may help the two to come close.

As the past 8 years' war proved that fighting only brings more destruction and frustration, and in the particular case of Afghanistan it only helped the insurgents to grow and expand, the entire world is now suggesting peace talks with the insurgents. But a huge problem still remains: the lack of trust among the involved parties. Though the US, Pakistan and Iran are the main partners of the conflict, Saudi Arabia, China, India and many other countries may also have their shares. And for now, it is clear that the US is not going to trust Pakistan, and Pakistan will never trust Afghanistan and India. The same is true between Iran and the US, between Pakistan and Iran and between India and China.

The Taliban has its own reservations about this plan. Their utmost demand is the withdrawal of the international troops, while the international community is offering reconciliation amid sending more troops. Ostensibly the strategy is aimed to weaken the Taliban by deploying the additional troops while offering them an opportunity to reconcile with the Afghan government. That may work for people who are fighting for financial incentives but not for ideologically motivated core elements and the ones that are trained and supported from outside Afghanistan. There is a strong possibility that the Taliban, who defect for money, may switch sides as soon as the international forces are out of the country or they think the Taliban is stronger again.

Taking this into consideration, many Afghans believe that this plan, and even this conference, is just another talk show that will not bring any change or an impact on their lives and the situation in general in Afghanistan. Haji Naqeebullah Muhabbat Khan, a former jihadi commander and a tribal elder in eastern Afghan province, when asked about the moot, said:

During the last few years, several conferences were held for development of Afghanistan and huge amounts of money were pledged but most of it went back to the pockets of foreigners.

This is a general concern about the money that comes to Afghanistan and much of it is taken back by the people who bring it. The sub-contracting system has made the construction work very complicated and the NGO business has underlined the government bitterly. This has now resulted in uncontrollable corruption in the government as well as the private sector. For Afghans, corruption is now a problem bigger and more dangerous than the insurgency.

For better and effective results, the international community, particularly the U.S., has to make a realistic and long-term strategy that can work in the regional context. For that, the Afghan government needs to be fully supported and given more authority and independence in decision-making-- especially when it comes to crucial issues like reconciliation, spending the aid money, and making security plans. The international community needs to work more with the neighboring countries that are part of the problem, to pressurize them to adopt a positive approach towards the solution of the conflict and stop dreaming of conquering Afghanistan after the international forces leave.