As Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed representatives from about 100 countries and 60 foreign ministers gathered in Bonn, Germany to discuss the future of Afghanistan, one aspect of his speech was conspicuously brief: reconciliation with the Taliban.
As has become standard for many Western and Afghan politicians, in the middle of his speech Mr. Karzai quickly affirmed his commitment to the “reconciliation effort as the surest path to a durable peace in Afghanistan,” while also acknowledging recent setbacks to the peace process.
After more than a year of concerted reconciliation efforts, many Afghans and Westerners seem to show fleeting support for peace talks, then shift dialogue to other potential solutions for Afghanistan, namely enduring international support in the form of money.
“Those who were advocating reconciliation, I think they did not understand the dynamic of Afghan conflict, including the nature of the Taliban and Pakistan’s geo-strategic mindset,” says Davood Moradian, a professor of political science at the American University of Afghanistan. “Now they have realized the incompatibility of our vision for Afghanistan and the region with the Taliban’s vision and Pakistan’s geo-strategic vision for the region.”
Negotiations with the insurgency have been considered in varying degrees for a number of years now, but the Peace Jirga in June 2010 pushed the idea to the forefront of discussions.
Several months after the Peace Jirga, Karzai created the High Peace Council to reach out to the Taliban, but the efforts seemed doomed from the start. The council was stacked with longtime enemies of the Taliban. Few people expected results and the council has yet to deliver substantive gains.
Since then, the peace process has seen more humiliations and missteps than achievements.
A year ago a Pakistani shopkeeper duped NATO and Afghan officials into thinking he was Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior Taliban leaders. Last summer, talks collapsed with Tayyab Agha, one of the closest people to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, when information about them leaked to the media. In September head of the High Peace Council and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated in his home by a man claiming to have a message from the Taliban.
The most recent blow came when Pakistan, which is seen as a critical interlocutor with the Taliban, boycotted the Bonn Conference after a NATO airstrike killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers.
“When there was no participation of the Pakistan it pushed the issue of negotiation to the sidelines,” says Muhammad Hassan Haqyar, an independent political analyst in Kabul. “There still can be negotiations, but negotiations through Bonn are completely closed.”
Even before Pakistan's boycott of the Bonn Conference, talks with the Taliban had become something of a marginal issue. Last month, 2,000 tribal elders from across Afghanistan gathered in Kabul for a loya jirga, or grand assembly to discuss relations with the US and reconciliation efforts. Of the 67-point resolution issued at the conclusion of the loya jirga, only 13 dealt with reconciliation and the rest on Afghan-American relations.
Eye on funding
Especially in light of Pakistan's absence, the Bonn Conference, much like the loya jirga, seems to have fallen short of some expectations. Now, Afghan and international officials appear to be shifting their focus and energies toward Afghanistan post-2014 when Western combat forces are scheduled to leave.
In this new calculus, peace with the Taliban and other insurgent groups is of course still desirable, but the more realistic goal of ensuring that international funding and support does not disappear with combat troops in three years is primary.
“We will need your steadfast support for at least another decade,” Mr. Karzai told leaders at the conference, warning that the withdrawal could cut the country’s economic growth in half.
“Our only concern for Afghans is that our international friends should not leave us alone like they did in the ‘90s. They should not withdraw based on a calendar date. Even in 2014 they should evaluate the situation and then make their decision,” says Mohammad Ismail Qasemyar, a member of the High Peace Council.