ADVERTISEMENT

First, it focuses almost exclusively on the Taliban and their affiliates. It is true that the insurgency is the biggest spoiler in the stabilization and state building process. Underlying ethnic tensions however also fuel the conflict. Several key stakeholders are thus missing from the reconciliation debate. By neither acknowledging the interests nor integrating the concerns of all ethnic groups, the peace process runs the risk of appearing as an intra-Pashtun affair. A further march down this road would not only exacerbate the fears of the non-Pashtuns but also cause more fragmentation in the society along ethnic lines.

Second, the Taliban leadership won’t reconcile for the simple reason that they don’t need to reconcile. They would weigh costs against benefits, understand that the Afghan Government and its international partners are desperate for a settlement, and conclude that they don’t need to participate in the “process”. Battlefield victories against them are necessary and form a useful narrative, but until they have support from across the border in Pakistan, they would remain an operationally potent destabilization force in any peace process in Afghanistan. The reconciliation talks therefore need to be conducted across the border with the Pakistani Military.

Third, there is a serious issue of Afghan government’s own failings. In several areas in rural Afghanistan, the government is seen not only as ineffective but also as predatory. Many fear the government, especially the police, sometimes, even more than they fear the Taliban. On several occasions, the face of the Afghan government and that of the international community are unscrupulous local actors who have worse human rights record than the Taliban. These issues contribute to a negative narrative about the government and a mistaken nostalgia for the Taliban period. This compromises government legitimacy and erodes people’s confidence in the state at all levels. The urgency to address these dynamics has been missing from the political strategy for Afghanistan.

Any policy going forward needs to be grounded not simply on the logic of reconciliation, but also on the experience and understanding of the Afghan context. Given the intricate dynamics of power, culture and society of Afghanistan, a more inclusive approach is required. For national reconciliation to have any chance of success, there needs to be a broad-based agreement entailing multiple layers of engagement and reconciliation among all key stakeholders about the roadmap for Afghanistan’s future.

The first reconciliation needs to take place among the different ethnic groups in Afghanistan. In the absence of all major ethnic groups agreeing on a framework for reconciliation, peace would remain elusive. This needs to be an all-inclusive process wherein the representatives from each region and different ethnic groups articulate their interests and concerns. Civil society participation is crucial here to include views from the unarmed members of the populace.

The second reconciliation needs to take place between the Afghan government and the Afghan people. Unless the Afghans consider the government as both legitimate and credible, all efforts to mollify the Taliban and fight them simultaneously would only address the symptoms rather than the causes of the conflict. Enhancing Afghan government’s legitimacy shall be an integral part of this process.

The third reconciliation needs to take place between the Pakistani Military and the Afghan government. Both the United States and China should use trade and aid diplomacy to exercise their leverage over Pakistan and alter its military’s strategic calculus in Afghanistan. This won’t be easy without addressing Pakistan’s own insecurities - some real, other imagined – in the region. Ignoring such regional dynamics is however not an option anymore if the United States wants a responsible transition in Afghanistan.

Skillful diplomacy from the United States, the Afghan government and other key players in the region could make these all-inclusive political reconciliation processes a possible game changer. It is to this possibility that we should now turn.

Prakhar Sharma is a Post-graduate Associate at Yale University. He has been researching in Afghanistan since late 2006.