Aurobinda MAHAPATRA (India)
A new terminology has been recently added to conflict and peace discourse in trouble torn Afghanistan. The term Talibjan (a combination of Talib and Jan) is coined to impart a new meaning to the Taliban in Afghanistan to bring them to the orbit of the «reintegration» process. Taliban (the singular is Talib, which literally means ‘seeker’ or ‘student’) forces are enthusiastically attracted to the peace efforts by the Afghan leadership particularly by President Hamid Karzai by calling them Jan (meaning darling). The underpinnings of such a subtle change in approach towards reconciliation and reintegration efforts in Afghanistan are really far reaching. The Kabul conference on 20 July 2010 further reinforced this spirit of reintegration by calling for accommodating the diverse forces including the Taliban in the peace process in the country. The Taliban, which belong to ethnic Pashtun community, to which Karzai also belongs to, has increasing asserted its stakes in the recent years. The emerging scenario too appears favorable to them. However, the evolving scenario has to be seen in a wider framework of ethnic pluralism and peculiar travails that the war torn country is currently undergoing.
In fact the incorporation of the Taliban elements into the peace efforts was clearly highlighted in the London Conference on Afghanistan in January 2010 amidst differences among members. The back channel diplomacy in the past two years too have indicated that probably in order to bring peace to Afghanistan there is no other way but to invite Taliban to be part of the peace process. This effort led to the further complex debate over moderate Taliban and radical Taliban. As such there is no clear cut demarcation line between moderate vs. radical Taliban. These forces which emerged during heydays of the cold war were intoxicated with the radical and orthodox dogmas. The collusion of these forces with other extremist forces like Al Qaeda made these forces further dreaded. The back channel not withstanding and despite the efforts by the United Nations such as meeting the Taliban representatives in Dubai in January this year, there is no feeble sign that the Taliban has given up violence. In fact none of the Taliban leaders has openly declared that the grouping will give up violence once they are part of the reintegration process. Other ethnic groups in Afghanistan such as Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, etc. have protested such moves. Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik leader, also at a time the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan strongly criticized this move in unequivocal terms, “It’s not just the language he has used for months about ‘disaffected brothers’; now he says, ‘Talib-jan,’ which is like calling them ‘darling.’ To me, it shows the lack of a sense of direction and vision.”
But there remains a dilemma. Hamid Karzai’s writ does not run large much farther from Kabul. There is no doubt Taliban is a force which must be reckoned with in any evolving solution format for Afghanistan. Karzai’s popularity base shrinking day by day and particularly after the last year’s elections which were characterized as tainted. Perhaps these are the factors that have motivated Karzai to reach out to Taliban during his visit to his native place to Kandahar few months back and afterwards so that he can play a role of credible balancer among diverse forces. The move may be appreciated on an overarching ideal of peace and development in Afghanistan, and it may be a good approach, but at a pragmatic level this approach is fraught with dangers and shortcomings. The Taliban has never discarded violence as a policy method. The same Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar who imposed radical Islam in Afghanistan are roaming free in Pakistan cities like Quetta with a popular base among significant section of Pashtuns. Neither Karzai nor his supporters did take steps to groom moderate Taliban leadership who could replace the orthodox leaders like Omar. It is doubtful whether the Taliban will shun violence when coming to power or will use it to further its agenda in establishing Islamic caliphate in Afghanistan with a global agenda.
Taliban is no more confined to Afghanistan alone, it has further entrenched to the north west areas of Pakistan. Broadly it has two branches: Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban. The hilly and mountainous border areas have suited to these forces in hiding, training and propagating terrorism. In this context, the role of Pakistan is noteworthy. Pakistan which shares common border with Afghanistan, and also has population of same ethnic stock (in fact there are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan) can play a dynamic role in ushering peace and stability in Afghanistan. Currently the Pakistan army is waging a battle against the Taliban in North Waziristan. Its success in South Waziristan has further emboldened the Pakistan army to play a decisive role in Afghanistan, and in taming Taliban. It will largely depend on the policy matrix of Pakistan the future course of peace and development in Afghanistan. Pakistan which has considered Afghanistan as its sphere of influence in fact can play a major role in reconciliation and reintegration effort by urging the radical elements under its control to shun violence. In fact Pakistan itself has become a victim of these forces of radicalism and terrorism.
The Kabul conference on 20 July 2010 can be considered a step in this reconciliation process. It is the first Afghanistan conference, attended by 70 countries including 40 foreign ministers, and international bodies and donor agencies, which took place in Kabul. Though the conference in its 32 point communiqué did not spell out anything novel, it further committed the Afghan leadership towards evolving an inclusive approach to solve the contentious issue in a transparent manner. No doubt the image of the Afghan government before the international arena is not very good as it is labeled as a corrupt, and inefficient, but Karzai can use the opportunity to show his acceptability among different ethnic groups. Karzai appeared confident during the conference when he proclaimed, “I remain determined that our Afghan National Security Forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014.” Though it is estimated that within a span of four years the international forces will depart, leaving the control of Afghanistan to Afghan people, it has to be seen how far the transition takes place in a smooth manner. As mentioned earlier, the Taliban can not be ignored in the whole process, but how it will be engaged and to what effect will be severely contested in coming days.
Source: Strategic Culture Foundation