Monday, April 6, 2009

The New US Strategy and the Context of its Implementation

The New US Strategy and the Context of its Implementation

The new US strategy for Afghanistan is considered to be a comprehensive one and is expected to improve situation in Afghanistan significantly. It is widely supported by both the Afghans and the international community engaged in Afghanistan. Key areas of focus in the new strategy are increasing international civilian and military efforts in Afghanistan, increasing and improving Afghan security forces, good governance, developing the economy of the country, and positively engaging Pakistan in fighting terrorism through empowering the civil government in that country. Focusing on Pakistan and destroying the so called safe havens of terrorists is a key aspect of the new policy. With the new strategy the US has come to finally have a comprehensive policy document with highlighted objectives and a clear take on issues concerning security in the region. In the past 7 years the US and international goals in Afghanistan have been regarded as ambiguous and inconsistent. The new US strategy is, therefore, a positive development from an Afghan perspective.

The international community and the UN have largely supported the new Obama strategy in Afghanistan. At the NATO summit held in Strasbourg the NATO members assured the US of their commitment to back up the Afghan mission with more civilian and military efforts. Five thousand new soldiers are expected to join NATO troops in Afghanistan to provide security for the up coming Afghan election as part of NATO’s commitment . NATO countries’ commitment is to respond positively to the new US Afghan strategy which has emphasized on a more coordinated and integrated approach to build up security through improving governance, economic condition and regional cooperation on Afghanistan.

The new strategy emphasizes on the increasing role of the Afghan security forces in fighting against terrorists, besides increasing international security forces. Therefore, increasing and training of the Afghan security forces is considered to be one of the first priority issues for the US engagement in Afghanistan. From a local perspective the Afghan ownership of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan is crucial for determining the success of the mission, because both local Afghans and the regional players have been suspicious about the long term presence and strategic goals of some of the international actors engaged in the Afghanistan mission.

The new US strategy has also emphasized on increasing the integration of policies and closer coordination between the Afghan and international forces with the Pakistani government. Integration of approaches and a common international strategy in fighting against terrorism in Afghanistan has been a long standing demand by the Afghans. However, the operational aspect of such a policy requires an understanding on creating a common counter terrorism strategy in the region. If the international actors succeed to come to an agreement on a common counter terrorism policy in Afghanistan, things will very likely improve faster than before.

One of the most problematic things in terms of fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan has been the lack of understanding among international actors on how to counter terrorism in a regional context. There have been inconsistencies among the international allies in terms of engaging with the regional players. Regional players like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been accused of being involved in supporting some networks of insurgents as part of their strategic engagement in the region, and some of the international allies have often had specific reservations regarding these countries. The success of the new US strategy depends on the international success in building a common understanding on how to address underlying regional strategic factors that influence security dynamics in Afghanistan.

The issue of Pakistan and cross-border security remains at the heart of problems in a regional perspective. Unifying and/or improving the incoherent and disintegrated Pakistani policy towards Afghanistan require extensive international efforts. Some of the insurgent networks have links with various institutions in the military and intelligence sectors of Pakistan on which the civil government has very limited control. For different institutions in Pakistan, insurgent networks serve various interests and therefore, efforts to destroy terrorist networks depend to large extent on dealing with issues on the other side of the Afghan borders. Regional connections of terrorist networks have been the core of the problems in terms of fighting terrorism in a regional context.

The new US strategy is expected to help overcome security problems in Afghanistan. However, the success of the strategy is highly dependent on the processes and mechanisms of its implementation. Addressing the local and regional dynamics influencing the context of implementation of the political and development as well as security programs of the international actors is critical to determining the success of the new approach. Greater international political efforts are needed to establish a working regional approach to counter terrorism and insurgency in the region. In other words, for the new US strategy to succeed it is crucial to operationalize policies and plans in a contextual framework in order to appropriately address the local and regional dynamics that have been affecting security outcomes in Afghanistan.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Afghan Presidential Election and the New Challenges;

On Saturday 28th of February 2009, President Hamid Karzai ordered the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan to re-schedule the date for the election, in order to comply with the constitution[1]. The constitution has set the date of elections, 30-60 days before the incumbent president’s five-year term finishes on the 21st of May. The IEC had declared earlier that it could not conduct the election in the given constitutional timeframe due to the current security environment and a lack of technical facilities, including the required $220 million for the election budget. The IEC therefore, decided to postpone the election to 21 of August 2009. The decision by the President Karzai to order the IEC to re-schedule the election date further complicates the political process, generating new challenges and uncertainties.

The presidential decree has generated new discussions on the statue of the Independent Election Commission which is conceived to be run independent of the Afghan government. The new circumstance created by the presidential decree for the IEC puts the Commission in a difficult condition in terms of identifying its status in relation to the executive power. If the IEC complies with the presidential decree, then it might lose the trust of the public as an independent institution and will be regarded as being controlled by the president. This will seriously affect its legitimacy in terms of conducting the election in a fair, free and transparent manner.

In addition to that, the presidential decree creates new concerns about the upcoming election in terms of technical and political capabilities available to conduct the election. Technical observations were the key argument presented by the IEC to postpone the election from March-April to August 2009. The Commission had argued that it had not had the required technical assistance provided to them to conduct the election according to the date identified in the constitution. Under such circumstances, the commission members had argued that they would not be able to assure a free and fair election in order to preserve the rights of the citizens to be able to choose their favorite candidate. If the commission fails to provide a secure and free election environment, the election outcome would lack legitimacy, the election commission members argued.

The UN representative and the US, both supported the idea of postponing the election time. The deteriorating security environment in some parts of Afghanistan convinced the international actors that more work needs to be done before the election takes place which includes providing the necessary security for the election. The US is expected to send more troops to Afghanistan and the IEC was hoping that these troops could be deployed to provide the security in the insecure areas during the election time.

However, the political opponents of President Karzai considered the IEC’s decision a breach of the constitution and accused the president of being behind the decision. They started to pressure the president to hand over his presidential authority to an interim government once his constitutional term for presidency expires in May as stipulated by the constitution. Otherwise, the opponents argued, the government under the incumbent president will be illegal and illegitimate.

For the opposition, postponing the election was a good political chance to utilize against President Karzai in the coming the election. However, it seems that President Karzai realized the risks generated by the IEC’s decision to postpone the election, and ordered the Commission to conduct the election according to the time frame the constitution has set.

It is argued that the presidential order to the IEC to conduct the election according to the provision of the constitution presents the commitment of the president to the constitution. However, the motivations behind the decision are clear for the ordinary Afghans. It is a strategic move for the president to avoid the circumstance for the establishment of an interim government by the oppositions.

There are serious doubts about the possibilities of an earlier election. Given the current technical limitations and political context, it is impossible for the IEC to conduct an earlier election within the time limit identified in the constitution. Furthermore, according to the election law of Afghanistan, the IEC has to declare the exact date of the election 90 days before the Election Day, in order to give potential candidates sufficient time for preparation. Therefore, the IEC can not legally announce an earlier election date as identified in the constitution.

With the legal constraints pertaining to announcing the election date in April, it is obvious that the authorities will have to decide on a later election date. This time around however, the blame will not be placed on President Karzai, but the circumstance. The circumstance can also be utilized by the president to either call for a Loya Jirga mechanism instead of the regular election or, very unlikely, issue a state of emergency after his term finishes on May 21. The first option, most likely to be tried, might allow the president to extent his term, but all these will depend on how the Loya Jirga processes will turn out. It is extremely hard to control the Loya Jirga process.

The presidential decree to conduct the election according to the constitution’s provisions has created new challenges regarding the election. While it puts the Independent Election Commission in a difficult situation in terms of power relation with the office of the president, an early election seems to be unfeasible considering the timeframe, lack of technical capabilities and the legal constraints in regard to the election date. The presidential decree in regard to the election has further complicated the process, initiating a lot of uncertainties about the election. It is yet to be seen how these political decisions might affect the outcome of the election. More importantly however, it seems that whatever decision is made, the issue of legitimacy will dominate any further developments concerning the election process.

[1] Xinhua, Afghan president calls for election by April , full report available at

Monday, February 16, 2009

Holbrooke’s visit and the concerns about the future of US-Afghanistan relations

On Saturday, 14th of February, Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan visited Kabul to meet with President Hamid Karzai. Besides the many issues discussed during this visit with the Afghan officials and intellectuals, relations between Washington and the Karzai administration was a hot topic in both the Afghan and the international media. The relation between Kabul and Washington has not been as good as it used to be under the Bush administration. The new administration in Washington has made clear statements about the inefficiency and corruption of the government in Afghanistan, which analysts see as sign of change in Karzai- Washington relations. On several occasions, President Karzai has also made strong statements against the US on issues such as the lack of coordination of coalition forces with his government, and civilian causalities caused during international forces’ attacks on the insurgents. However, can Holbrooke’s visit help clear up issues between Karzai and Obama’s administration? Did the parties come to a mutual understanding?

Although there has not been any public statement made by Karzi or Holbrooke, it seems that the parties have come to some sort of understanding on some conflictive issues. BBC Persian service reported on Sunday, 15th of February that Holbrooke has assured President Karzai of Washington’s support to his administration, but it has not been clear whether Washington will support him being a candidate at the upcoming presidential election or not[1]. It has been also reported that Holbrooke had agreed with President Karzai that the US should do its best to avoid civilian casualties.

Around the time of Holbrooke’s visit to Afghanistan, a joint press release by Afghan Defense Minister and the US military and NATO commander in Afghanistan, David McKiernan, stated that in order to avoid further civilian causalities, there will be closer coordination between the international forces and the Afghan army[2]. It was also said in the press release that the Afghan army will take greater part in the military in-house-searches for insurgents in the southern villages, which in past, brought up issues of cultural sensitivities as these searches were primarily conducted by the international forces..

Reports also state that Afghan Foreign Minister, Dr. Rangin Spanta will visit Washington to take part in the US-Afghan policy review[3]. President Karzai said that he was happy that Washington has accepted his proposal to allow the Afghans take part in the policy assessment.

With these agreements reached between the US and the Karzai government, it seems that the US has successfully politically disarmed Karzai in terms of the political rhetoric he has been using against the Obama administration’s criticisms of the Karzai government. Karzai has been using civilian causalities and the lack of coordination of the international forces as a political rhetoric against Washington’s criticisms of his government being corrupt and ineffective. Now that the US has agreed on coordination with the Afghan forces in military operations in order to avoid civilian causalities, Karzai seems to have lost the grounds to stand against the US criticisms.

An important point of contention between Obama and Karzai’s administration has been the issue of corruption. This along with criticisms of weak governance under Karzai’s administration in Afghanistan, had dominated the relation between US and Afghanistan under the Obama administration. However, it is yet unclear whether Holbrooke’s visit has led to some sort of understanding between the US and Karzai’s administration in this regard.

The Afghan government has not been able to tackle widespread corruption in the government institutions. This has not only affected the government’s image in the eyes of ordinary Afghans, but has also tarnished its image among the international community, whom the Afghans see as the back bone of the Karzai government in terms of economic and political assistance it provides the present administration. Therefore, it is understandable that many policy makers in US have reconsidered their level of support to the country. However, the poor performance of the Karzai administration should not be a reason for the US to stop further and greater efforts to improve things in the Afghan government. The weakness of the Karzai government is not sufficient reason for its isolation by the international community, but efforts should be made to work towards improving governance in Afghanistan by further engaging with the Afghan government. Afghans as a nation, would expect from the main international players involved in Afghanistan, to empower good governance as a strategy to win the war on terror.

It is yet to be seen what policies would be adopted towards Afghanistan based on Holbrooke’s presentation of his findings during his visit to Afghanistan. However, regardless of the discussion of support for Karzai, it is extremely important for the US and the international society to focus on helping the Afghans with good governance, democratization and public service development. The success in the War against Terrorism is closely linked with winning of the hearts and minds of the ordinary Afghans through empowering governance, security and social service institutions to improve the quality of their lives. Corruption and weak governance is as serious a threat to the ongoing international efforts in Afghanistan as is the insurgency. The issue of good governance should be brought back into focus, and the Obama administration should keep emphasizing on good governance as a central policy issue towards Afghanistan.

[1] Barack Obama az dawlat Karzai Hemayat Mykonad ( Barack Obama supports Karzai’s administration) BBC Persian , February 15, 2009. < >
[2] Afghan, U.S. military agree on further coordination to avoid civilian casualties Xinhua (KABUL), February 14, 2009
[3] Afghanistan joins US 'war on terror' review , AFP ( Kabul) February 15, 2009

Monday, November 24, 2008

Karzai ready to provide protection for Mullah Omar at high costs

In a press conference that was held on the 16th of November in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai expressed his willingness to protect the fugitive Taliban leader, Mullah Omar and some other top Taliban commanders if they are willing to join the Afghan government for the sake of peace[1]. Karzai’s statement signifies the weaknesses of his government and his failure to talk to the insurgents from the position of power. It further shows that there is not any legally established framework of negotiation and reconciliation that identifies terms of reconciliation and that can serve as a reference for peace building in Afghanistan.

There have been a lot of efforts from the government’s side to open up negotiations with the Taliban as an antidote for the current volatile security context in Afghanistan. However, Afghan government’s attempts at peace talks have not met with any success. Taliban have continuously ignored peace gestures from the government and have demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops and the establishment of an Islamic state on the basis of the Sharia law as preconditions for peace negotiation to begin. Taliban’s inflexible stance on the preconditions for peace has led the Afghan government to beg the militancy to come to the table. This has negatively affected the position of the Afghan government in terms of power relation on the issue of peace building.

Peace building and reconciliation among parties that are in conflict with a state should be approached as a careful deliberation of a governance strategy in conflict affected societies. Peace building is a governance initiative in which government seeks to expand it’s authority over the insurgent groups. The government will attempt to sustain political stability in long run with respect to preserving the fundamental values that feeds government's legitimacy and public trust in the political institutions.

In Afghanistan, the peace building and negotiation as a means of governance to bring peace and stability by establishing government's authority over resistant groups through political bargaining is absent. The negotiation efforts from the government’s side are insurgency driven urgent security measures to protect the state’s breakdown. This situation has placed the central government in Afghanistan in the position of initially demanding and ‘begging for peace’ from the insurgents, and this in turn, has led to the empowerment of the discourse of the insurgency. The insurgency has interpreted the government gestures as a signal of victory over a democratic government elected by popular votes.

This situation has materialized due to the absence of a defined set of interests formulated in the form of a peace building and reconciliation strategy by the government. Such a strategy should reflect elements of power of the central authority. The centrality of the state in peace building is central to its legitimacy, and its control over the process of peace building to ensure sustainability of states’ foundations of values and ideals.

The lack of a legal reference for reconciliation and peace building in Afghanistan has also allowed for the emergence of conflicting views and interpretations in regard to reconcilability of certain groups or individuals. In most cases of insurgents’ attack on Afghan government and International organizations, are condemned as the acts by the ‘enemies of Afghanistan’. However, the government has never articulated the definition of meaning of ‘enemies of Afghanistan’. President Karzai's latest statement regarding offering of protection to Mullah Omar if he is willing to make peace presents the scope of the problems associated with such a condition. The boundaries between peace building and recognition of terrorism are not made clear in Afghanistan. Karzai’s statement implies a form of recognition of Taliban[2].

Part of problem in this regard is due to the shortcoming of the Bonn conference that established the current political structure in Afghanistan. The Bonn conference, due to pressures by former Jihadi leaders, failed to propose a peace building framework within which certain measures would apply to peace building and reconciliation conditions with parties and persons involved in war crimes in Afghanistan[3]. The lack of such measures has not only allowed for some former war criminals to enjoy power and position in the government, but has encouraged the idea of involving Taliban in the power structure on the basis of the argument that if former Mujahideen leaders –charged with war crimes- can be part of the power structure why Can’t the Taliban be?

However, the absence of a historical structure for peace building should not necessarily be a legitimate reason for not creating a new framework. Peace building, governance and political stability in longer run are closely interlinked in terms of affecting the political outcomes. The government should try to look at peace building as a process of governance rather than submitting to urgent necessities under pressures. Recognition of demands and wills that are in contrast with the very foundation of peace and human rights, are deadly to the political development and the future of stability in Afghanistan.

The scope of the threat posed by the Taliban is much more limited than it is portrayed by the media. It is the weaknesses of the government as well as the international forces in Afghanistan that have allowed for the spread of the fear of state breakdown or state failure in Afghanistan. The lack of a legitimate legal framework for reconciliation and the absence of a perspective on peace building as a governance strategy to empower state and sustain its core ideals have made the state in Afghanistan more vulnerable to crisis and lose of authority and public trust.

[1], Karzai: 'remove me or leave' over Taliban talks, November 16, 2008, URL:
[2] Karzai said if Mullah Omar respects the Afghan constitution and comes to peace he will protect him by all cost. He said “If the international community fails to back his protection of the Taliban’s top brass, they can ‘remove me or leave’ (”. Karzai’s statement implies that if he is given a choice to choose between the international society and the Taliban under a peace deal condition, he is ready to support Taliban. This actually counts for the recognition of Taliban by president Karzai.
[3] Astri Suhrke; Kristian Berg Harpviken; Arne Strand (Oct. 2002) After Bonn: Conflictual Peace Building, Reconstructing War-Torn Societies: Afghanistan. Third World Quarterly, Vol. 23/ 5. Stable URL:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Attack at the Ministry of Culture to Challenge Ongoing Peace Efforts

Last week’s[1] suicide attack at the Ministry of Information and Culture in Kabul by the Taliban raises serious questions about the capabilities of the national security forces to prevent such attacks on government institutions. Four people were killed as a result of this strike[2]. The attack coincided with the hosting of an Afghan-Pakistani mini-jirga (jirgagai) in Islamabad aimed at finding solutions to the current situation. This jirgagai concluded that the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan should engage in dialogue with the insurgency, and that a ‘convening’ committee should be created to facilitate communication with anti-governmental forces in order to achieve a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. The Ministry of Information attack was a blatant message to the Jirga participants that insurgents pay no heed to these ongoing peace-building efforts.

The attack has struck fear among civil servants working for government offices as well as among ordinary citizens in the capital. The suicide bomber in this instance entered the ministry, shooting his way through to the media hall where he blew himself up. Concerns have arisen due to the Taliban’s ability in this case to breach the defenses of a city-central and protected government building. These concerns have led to calls to re-assess the Taliban’s capability. The Information Ministry attack underscores the enormous scope of the challenge faced by the Afghan government with regard to providing daily security for government employees and the rest of the citizenry alike.

The phenomenon of the suicide attack in Afghanistan is a relatively new tactic of militants, having emerged since the fall of the Taliban regime. Since 2001-2002, which recorded two attacks total, suicide attack numbers have increased exponentially to 21 such incidents in 2005, and reached their highest peak in 2007 with 143 recorded incidents. With last week’s attack, the number of suicide attacks this year has reached 100. Although the figure for this year shows a drop in the number of attacks compared to last year, the threat remains, and the year is not yet out.

Despite widespread condemnation of suicide attacks by religious authorities in Afghanistan, militants continue to use suicide attacks on the Afghan government and the international forces. Last week’s suicide attack was particularly significant because the target’s location in the heart of the city. The Ministry of Information and Culture is located in one of the most crowded areas of the city and is protected by security guards. The ministry building is attached to the Ministry of Communication and the Spinzar Hotel. It is a mere hundred yards away from the presidential palace. The attack could have brought down this entire block and would have caused a far greater number of casualties had the explosives been stronger.

Moreover, last week’s attack took place despite recent international attempts to stem the tide of violence in the country through negotiation with insurgent groups. The Information Ministry attack substantiates the widely held belief that while a peace negotiation should be encouraged; it will do very little in the short-term to bring down the threats of insurgency and terrorism in the country.

The Taliban took responsibility for the Ministry of Information attack immediately after it took place. This conveyed a clear message to the parties involved in the negotiation efforts that their peace building strategy may come to naught, and that they should reassess their efforts and re-think about ways to fight insurgency in Afghanistan.

Despite the fact that the Taliban are at the center of the insurgency movement in Afghanistan, the sweep of the insurgency is much broader than the Taliban leadership alone, and the associated terrorist organizations that emerged within the insurgency structure make up a significant network of ideological and political influence over the Taliban insurgency at different levels.

It is very doubtful that a peace deal with the Taliban leadership will significantly lower the threat from insurgency. This means that terrorism will continue to frustrate the Afghans even if the Taliban leadership enters into a peace deal with the central government. Of course, the attack on the Ministry of Information and Culture conveyed a clear message that the Taliban are also not eager to join a peace agreement. The peace effort actors need to guard themselves against placing too much stead in the outcome of the peace negotiations. The peace efforts should be accompanied by extensive use of military means to tackle the insurgency at current situation.

[1] Suicide attack at the Ministry of Information and Culture of Afghanistan, Deh Afghanan, Kabul, October 30, 2008.
[2] Laura King, Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2008.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Security Implications of a Possible Peace Talks with Taliban

While the security condition in Afghanistan is getting worse, some officials in NATO and the UN have said that military means is not going to work to deal with the challenge, and there should be a negotiation with the insurgents. In the last three weeks, news about negotiation between the Afghan government and the Taliban has been circulating in the international and local media. Saudi Arabia is reported to have been mediating the talks. However, the peace talks are reported to be directed towards primarily securing Pakistan against Islamic militancy, by moving the Taliban into the Afghan political process rather than providing a thorough resolution to the problem in Afghanistan. The security situation in Pakistan has certainly affected the region and any resolution to securing Pakistan seems to be a legitimate effort by international actors. However, the concern on the Afghan side remains as to at what cost to Afghanistan should this happen, and is the resolution really aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan or is it proposed to bring back Pakistani control over the Islamic militant organizations?

Islamic militancy that enjoyed a great deal of support in Pakistan has now turned to a serious threat to the country itself. Attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad was just one sign of a growing instability that has seriously worried Pakistan and its important international allies. Pakistan is at war with the Taliban in Swat and Bajaur and this, according to some Pakistani politicians should not have happened. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Tariq Azim a former minister in the government of Pervez Musharraf saying “The majority of the people of Pakistan do not see it as our war. We are fighting for somebody else and we are suffering because of that.”[1] The former Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif who reportedly had been present at the Taliban –Afghan government Mecca meeting in September has called on the Pakistani government to stop fighting against, and talk with militants with no any precondition. The situation in Pakistan has worried many observers. “A leaked US top-secret National Intelligence Estimate on Pakistan concludes that the country is "on the edge”[2].

The situation in Pakistan has caused Pakistan’s allies –important among them Britain, the US and Saudi Arabia- to think of a resolution to get Pakistan away from the current wave of instability. Apparently, these efforts have materialized in terms of a peace talk initiative between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents. The idea behind is to satisfy indigenous Islamic militants’ demands by entering the Taliban into the political process in Afghanistan, and “entice the Taliban away from hard-line elements wedded to the alliance with al Qaeda.”[3]

A diplomat involved in the Afghan government-Taliban talk in Mecca expressed that the concern is Pakistan. Reuters quoted the diplomat saying that “They want to help because Pakistan is frightening. They fear what could happen in Pakistan. This (mediation) is to stabilize Pakistan,"[4] Reuters also reported that top Saudi intelligence officials had worked on the plan to mediate the so called Iftar meeting between the Afghan government representatives and the Taliban already for sometimes till the actual meeting took place in September.

Saudi Arabia has great interest in Pakistan as its close ally in the region, and has been backing the country for a long time to keep its interest by empowering and influencing Sunni Islamic groups in the region, especially in Afghanistan. Now that Pakistan is destabilizing, Saudi Arabia is worried about the consequences of the instability, especially about Bin Ladan's Al-Qaeda –an enemy of the Saudi royal monarchy- taking over the insurgency leadership in the region.

Britain, a historic ally of Pakistan seems to have been working on a plan for Pakistan by taking controversial counterinsurgency policy in Afghanistan. It seems that Britain had noticed the threat in Pakistan earlier than any other of its allies, and started to work closely with some factions of the Taliban despite being at war with them. Tensions emerged between the Afghan government and the British over the latter’s suspicious activities. The Afghan government expelled two high ranking British nationals from Afghanistan, one of them a top British diplomat, in the beginning of 2008. British officers have had a central role in forming a perception of the Taliban insurgents as taking over Afghanistan, and doing so, they have mobilized support for the recognition of Taliban and their incorporation into the government structure in Afghanistan.

The efforts of Pakistan and its allies to bring back Taliban into the power structure in Afghanistan as a strategy to secure Pakistan is now supported by Afghans as well, who in hope of achieving peace, think that the initiative is primarily serving their interest. No doubt that the peace is in the ultimate interest of the Afghans. However, the cost of this deal to the Afghans does not seem to be estimated.

The Pakistani-Saudi-British peace initiative will not be clear of negative security and political implications for Afghanistan. The prospect for stability in Afghanistan seems gloomier from a perspective on regional powers entering Afghanistan along with recognition of Taliban – if it is going to happen, of course. The Britain-Pakistan-Saudi support of the Taliban would drive Iran and India more intensively into the great game and this will ultimately take away central government’s control over the political process in Afghanistan. This would mark a return to a new phase of instability in the country. Iranian Foreign Minister has warned about the consequences of negotiation with Taliban.[5]

If a peace deal does not take Afghanistan as the ultimate priority, and if it is not aimed at securing a democratic Afghanistan, it will not only fail but would initiate another round of instability in the country. We shall not rush for a deal under the current frustration. The Afghan government should take strong side and play a central role in mapping the peace talks as to secure a post-Taliban democratic Afghanistan and prevent regional and international powers from pursuing their interests at the Afghan cost.

While a peace negotiation with Taliban is broadly encouraged in international and local level, the Saudi peace initiative seems to have targets other than primarily securing Afghanistan. Both, Saudi and Britain alongside with the US have vast interest in Pakistan. Although a secure Pakistan is always in the interest of Afghanistan, the Afghan government should make sure that one country’s security is not being built on the cost of another. The peace talk initiative demands deeper analysis and broader evaluation that requires cautious decision making by the Afghan side.

[1] The Sydney Morning Herald, War on Taliban losing support in Pakistan, Oct. 17 2008
[2] Ibid.
[3] Reuters, Andrew Hammond (RIYADH ) Saudi Arabia hosts Taliban talks to bolster , Oct. 15 2008
[4] Ibid.
[5] BBC Persian, Oct. 20 2008,

Insergents, and the Prospect for Peace Talks

Pajhwok news agency has reported that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hizb-e-Islami has claimed the ambush on French soldiers in Sorubi, East of Kabul. According to AFP report, Hekmatyar has made the claim in a video delivered to Pajhwok Agency office in Peshawar. In the Sorubi ambush in 19the August, 10 French soldiers were killed and 21 wounded. This was called the ‘deadliest incident for the French army in 25 years’. The Taliban had claimed the ambush immediately after the battle, but now Hekmatyar has announced that he is responsible for it. Despite declaring Jihad against the foreign troops in Afghanistan back in 2002 Hekmatyar had not personally been taking responsibility for attacks on the Afghan government or international forces in a video record –a typical use of media for Al-Qaeda leaders- in the past.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is the former prime minister to the Islamic State of Afghanistan, and who played a strong role in Jihad against the Soviet Union, joined the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in 2002 after having been fully excluded from the post-Taliban government structure designed at the Bonn conference. Although some believe that Hekmatyar’s insurgents are among the Taliban and have a big role in the insurgency, especially in the areas closer to the capital he seems to have a complicated relation with Taliban. It has not been clear if his men are incorporated into the insurgency movement or are a separate body within it. His recent move to deny the Taliban’s hand in the killing of French soldiers and take its responsibility himself confirms that he preserves his own independent position within the insurgency structure.

Hekmatyar takes responsibility for the attack while the Afghan government is trying to launch a peace negotiation with insurgents through Saudi Arabia’s mediation. The government has been repeatedly asking Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar to put down their arms and join the peace and political process, despite the fact that they are on the CIA black list. But they both have rejected the proposal. Recent reports say that there have been covert talks with Taliban for the past some months, but neither Afghan officials nor the Taliban has admitted it. On 29th of September, Reuters reported that ‘The Taliban leadership on Monday denied a report they were negotiating with the Afghan government to end the war and the insurgents repeated their pledge to keep fighting till foreign troops were expelled from the country’.

Hekmatyar’s act of taking responsibility for attack on French soldiers can be interpreted as re-stating his commitment to the same objective shared by Mullah Omar. Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar’s rejection of peace talks implies that negotiation –though should be encouraged- will not immediately lead to a resolution or significant security improvement in Afghanistan. In order to get a deeper sense of the insurgency and its character we should look at the insurgency in a nuanced way in the sense to see it as comprised of different groups and its structure as fragmented and largely decentralized that is not bound together by a single central authority. In such cases, bringing a leader into the peace process might have very little effect on brining down the insurgency machine.

This situation is presumably realized by insurgency leaders too. It puts the leaders in a position that would make it hard for them to convince sub-insurgent networks in case of negotiation. the insurgents have proved to be tough on leaders who give up their resistance and join the enemy. They have killed many prominent religious authorities who cooperated with the government, and have not followed some senior Taliban authorities who joined the peace process. For some groups within the insurgents accepting peace proposals from a western backed government, which has no legitimacy for them, is almost equal to compromising their faith and ideological commitments. The major challenge in this regard has been that the groups under Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s leadership have opposed the very legitimacy of an Afghan government. From this position, they have challenged any authority within their groups or outside who have tried to show that there is no problem with the government from the view point of religion.

Last week, President Karzai said to AFP that he had asked Saudi Arabia’s king as the leader of the Muslim world to mediate a peace talk with insurgents in Afghanistan. The success of this initiative seems to be very unlikely too. This is partly due to the decentralized structure of Islam as a social and political system that allows for fragmentation in it in terms of authority. But in regard to militant Islamic groups in particular, this kind of mediation is very unlikely to work out as the insurgents have never come under a central authority like Saudi Arabia’s king. Further, Islamic militants’ perception of Saudi’s king as an ally of the western countries, who has no authority before them, makes the perspective for the initiative very gloomy.

The unclear relation of insurgents with religious authorities or leaders makes it very hard to determine whether a peace negotiation through authorities’ mediation would help the security situation to improve. Further, for leaders like Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar, it is in their strategic interest not to come along with the government’s peace proposals. They see the peace proposal by the government and the international society as showing the government and its backers’ frustration rather than giving a signal of good intention towards them. They might even take the proposal as sign of gradual die out of the government and victory for themselves- a perception that was widespread among Jihadi groups throughout1989-92 when the communist regime was pushing for a national reconciliation program, but they rejected and fought till the collapse of Dr. Najeebullah’s government.

It would be unrealistic to say that the current insurgency would lead to a similar break down of the state like the one that communist regime faced because of many differences between the two circumstances such as insurgents’ technical capacity and scope of popular support, but the continuation of insurgency puts the government in a far challenging situation that can consequently lead to a popular frustration and lose of capital for the Afghan state. A double strategy of negotiation and building up of the military capacity to aggressively target insurgents seem to be a temporary option for the Afghan government until changes in the internal circumstances bring up new opportunities. However, a regional anti-insurgency strategy needs to be developed in longer turn to deal with the problem.