A national reintegration plan ignores the fact much of the violence is caused by an exported insurgency from Pakistan
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 11 May 2010 12.00 BST
Afghanistan is preparing for a consultative peace jirga through which it aspires to build national consensus on the political approach to the insurgency, and create a roadmap towards ending the perpetual violence in the country. The government has indicated that during the jirga it will open its reintegration and reconciliation plan for debate. A version of this plan was first presented at the London conference on Afghanistan in January, where the initiative received financial and political support.
Traditionally, jirgas have been a mechanism for resolving communal and tribal conflicts in many parts of Afghanistan, as well as at the national level. Jirgas have been useful in solving disputes and averting further deterioration or perpetration of violence. Their decisions are often binding and forced, and resolutions arrived at through jirgas do not necessarily pass tests of justice or fairness. Furthermore, jirga representatives are often notables and local power-holders who may see it fit to impose their own will on the public, rather than represent the public's desires.
We may be tempted to hope that the coming jirga might put an end to the continuing violence. However, as the new developments unfold around the reintegration and reconciliation plan, including the latest on offering exile to the Taliban commanders, the hope gets murkier.
We hear various arguments against the reintegration plan. One of its only known components is the provision of incentives for the insurgents to renounce violence. Many claim that it's an unsustainable strategy and will further antagonise the majority youth who are feeling deprived of the development and security initiatives of the international community and the Afghan government. Women's rights activists and civil society groups raise their concern over the issue of justice for human rights violations and fear that a blank offer of amnesty will not bring enduring peace to Afghanistan.
While many critics believe that Taliban leadership or forces will not participate in the jirga, another perspective can bring some optimism as well. The arrest of the leading Taliban commanders in Pakistan has disturbed the relationship between the Taliban and the Pakistani intelligence services. So the jirga can be an opportunity for the Afghan Taliban leadership to withdraw their affiliation from the Pakistani intelligence and become part of the political and national processes in Afghanistan. Otherwise, they will be continuously used as scapegoats by the Pakistani government to cash its cheques in Washington.
The risk is that jirga may be a one-sided interaction of the people in power with the vulnerable Afghan elders – asking the elders to help with the peace process while ignoring that some of these elders might be executed upon their return to their village, and some will not even try to come due to such fear from the local militants and insurgents. This risk is more likely to materialise in relation to elders from the southern and south-eastern provinces, the focus of ongoing violence.
It is wrong to set high expectations for the coming jirga. It may serve as a step towards stabilising Afghanistan, but such hopes should be tempered by a realisation that the realities on the ground continue to be violent.
If the Taliban movement was national, independent and based on Afghan patriotic sentiments, such a jirga might be more sensible and productive, but it is undeniable that much of the violence in Afghanistan is caused by an exported insurgency – one that is created and sustained by Afghanistan's neighbour, Pakistan.
The time has come for the Afghan government to seriously talk with the Pakistani military and the intelligence services that have been the fathers of the Taliban movement and insurgency. Pakistan will continue making and remaking insurgency for Afghanistan if the Pakistani establishment continues to believe that its survival and security interests are at stake there.
The time has come for a regional pact between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with guaranteed compliance. Pakistan does not want an Afghanistan that flourishes economically or politically; Pakistani intelligence and military wrongly perceive that a fragile Afghan state and nation can let Pakistan breathe in peace. A strong Afghan state might question the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan because of the Durand Line and the Pashtunkhwa sentiments.
There is a need to assure Pakistan that if it stops creating more insurgency for Afghanistan, Afghanistan will not be a threat to Pakistan's territorial sovereignty, and India and other actors will not be allowed to use Afghan land for any activities against Pakistan. Such assurance needs to be negotiated with the Pakistani army and intelligence; success in that could bear more fruit than any national reconciliation or reintegration plan inside Afghanistan.