Afghan war: What some local officials are willing to do for peace

Some local Afghan officials are hoping to end the decade-long Afghan war by negotiating with the Taliban – province by province.

By , Correspondent

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    A US Marine from Charlie Company, 1/5 Marines, and an Afghan National Army soldier walk along a busy roadway on a joint patrol in Sangin, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, on Monday, Sept. 5.
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After spending most of his life as a fighter – first as a mujadhideen during the Soviet invasion and most recently as a general in the Afghan Army during the current war – Atiqullah Ludin is among a growing group of local leaders who say they no longer believe fighting will bring peace.

So Mr. Ludin, who is now the governor of Logar Province, helped launch an effort to end the violence in his increasingly troubled province by starting independent, direct negotiations with insurgents in his area.

“I can’t just watch my people get hurt by the insecurity, so I started these talks,” says Ludin, whose predecessor, Abdullah Wardak was assassinated in 2008 by the Taliban. “I fought with the Taliban a lot [before I was governor], so now I’ve changed my thinking and started working for peace. I don’t want to fight anymore.”

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Throughout Afghanistan a number of local government officials like Ludin have begun looking for ways to convince insurgents to put down their guns and support the government. Although they’re not authorized to make any official compromises or deals with the Taliban, officials in Kabul hope this local effort to end violence in the provinces will pave the way for larger talks.

“Since this process of reconciliation has started under the High Peace Council everyone in the provinces, whether a governor or a tribal elder, is advised to help us in this process,” says Haji Musa Hotec, a member of the High Peace Council, which was formed by President Hamid Karzai last year to facilitate negotiations. “They’re just inviting them to join the government and come home."

Situated directly to the south of Kabul, Logar’s proximity to the capital makes it a strategically critical province. If security continues to deteriorate there the ripple effect will likely be felt far beyond its borders.

Since this spring there has been about one beheading per month in Logar, along with a number of other violent attacks. One of the most recent incidents took place a little more than a month ago when insurgents beheaded two people and shot another two inside the provincial capital of Pul-i-Alam.

About two weeks ago, three Afghan soldiers were kidnapped within about a mile of the provincial police headquarters. Two were killed and the third is still being held hostage.

“With this situation here, nobody wants to invest in Logar. People are losing both money and their lives,” says Mohammad Kasim, who runs an electronics repair shop in Pul-i-Alam. “I don’t feel safe in my own house.”

By bringing militants to the table, local officials hope to stop the fighting province by province.

“In my opinion, the one and only way for long-term peace is to sit for negotiations and to listen to the Taliban commanders and accept some of their wants and requests,” says Wahidullah Arghushi, deputy police chief for Logar, adding that he feels this way despite his belief that security forces are now making progress against militants in the area. “If negotiations don’t take place than the situation will remain like this and the fighting will continue, and it will not have any results.”

Some Afghan government officials, however, stress that such an effort won’t be easy. Chief among their concerns is that local efforts like those in Logar expend too much effort for too little in return.

“Pursuing peace through these options is not successful. We’ve always suggested that we should talk to the leadership and those who have command positions in the Taliban, but some others are saying we should start with ordinary Taliban members,” says Mr. Hotec. “This is hard to do because it takes a lot of effort to go after a single Taliban and convince him to come back to the government. One day he will promise to meet and the next day they will disappear, so it turns into a complicated issue.”

Even communicating with high-level insurgents from the Taliban and other groups has proven problematic, as was demonstrated last winter when a Pakistani shopkeeper duped NATO into believing he was a key Taliban leader.

Some residents of Logar also worry that their government’s efforts will be met with little success, as traditional negotiations here require a third party mediator, not just both sides – the government and the insurgency – directly talking to one another.

Government officials in Logar, however, insist that they can make peace in their province despite the central government’s struggles talking to the Taliban.

“If the government continues to try to stand against the Taliban with force, this is the truth that we know: The Taliban has control of 70 percent of the provinces in Afghanistan, so this not the way to bring peace,” says Abdul Wali Wakil, head of the Logar Provincial Council. “We hope that we will find a way to make peace in Logar this winter.”

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