PARIS — Afghan officials are meeting with Taliban rebels and envoys from another Islamist militant group near Paris, looking beyond Afghanistan’s ongoing insurgency to a future long after international forces have returned home.
French hosts say the secretive, rare meeting among rival Afghans in Chantilly — known partly for its equine training grounds — Thursday and Friday isn’t expected to involve any horse-trading toward a possible peace and reconciliation deal.
About 20 Afghans from President Hamid Karzai’s government, the Taliban, as well as the political opposition and the Islamist Hezb-e-Islami militant group will just try to foster a conversation after 11 years of war.
The meeting comes as France is pulling its last combat troops from Afghanistan — well ahead of NATO’s withdrawal timetable..
Mr. Waliullah Rahmani, Executive Director of Kabul Center for Strategic Studies in Afghanistan, speaks on the prospects of peace talks between representatives of Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban
If we look at the prospects for the Paris meeting between the representatives of the current Government and the representatives of the Talibs, how do you assess the chances of this meeting for success?
Well, if we look just in terms of reconciliation it is a good start, because there have been efforts in the last 5-6 years to reconcile with the Taliban from the Afghan side. Now the Taliban negotiators along with the representatives of the Afghan Government, including very strong members of the Afghan Government, they sat at one table. From that perspective I believe it could be a good start. But a strong outcome is not something that we should expect to have because you know that the Taliban has rejected to talk with the Afghan Government. And although there have been various steps taken with Pakistan, with Islamabad on reconciliation we did not have any success yet. So, for that reason I think Paris conference would be a conference more in terms of confidence, but for starting it can be a good step for sure.
Sir, as far as I remember not so long ago the Taliban was quite split on the issue of starting negotiations with the current Government. Do I get it right that the split has narrowed? Do you think that the Taliban leaders have eventually come to terms between themselves on whether they should talk to Mr. Karzai’s Government or not?
There have been of course the rumors of split among the Taliban. There is a part of the leadership of Taliban who still thinks they should not talk with the Afghan Government and those are the ones who are fighting. And there are some people who have just gone away from the Taliban and they think that the solution is to talk to the Afghan Government and to be part of the political processes rather than of an insurgency process.
So, for that reason I believe these rumors have been there. I think there has been a split on the issue. But in general, because the Taliban is settled outside Afghanistan in Pakistani territories the major control of the Taliban’s decisions is in the hands of the Pakistan establishment, especially the intelligence and military establishment. So, a very clear example of this is that there has been a roadmap which was agreed between Afghanistan and Pakistan for peace with five steps to be taken. But when you talk to several Taliban members, most of them are not aware of this roadmap and its content.
So, for that reason I believe that this is more of a deal between Pakistan and Afghanistan rather than the Taliban. The Taliban is considered to be under control of Pakistan, so for that reason I don’t believe that unless and until there is a strong will within the Pakistan establishment to go further with the peace process in Afghanistan we would see any peace and reconciliation with the Taliban.
But you should not forget that the Taliban is not tied with the destiny of Afghanistan in the future because the Taliban is a minority. They are of course a group that is fighting, they are the insurgents but they are not the majority of Afghans who want for example a change in the structure of the Afghan state or the Government, or changing the constitution, or neglecting the past achievements in Afghanistan. There is a majority of Afghans who are supporting the state of Afghanistan and they have the will to support this process beyond 2014 to 2024 and for a long life of Afghanistan.
Sir, and who is participating in the conference?
There are various groups – some members of the High Peace Council, a few leading figures such as Atta Muhammad Noor from the northern part of the country who is a very strong political actor now in the Karzai Administration, and a few more names. And of course this shows that from the Afghan’s state side and from the side of who are ruling Afghanistan there is a will to talk to the Taliban. And there are a few names from the Taliban’s side as well who are there. But before the Paris conference the Taliban had once again reiterated their position that they do not want to talk with the Afghan Government at any chance before the withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Well, the withdrawal is coming anyway. But is Pakistan presented in the conference?
I’m not sure Pakistan has been presented in the conference because it is more an intra-Afghan dialog. And I believe it is more considered to be a talk between the Taliban who are the insurgents and the Afghan Government rather than a talk between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Taliban.
Since the Taliban is insisting that they are not going to talk before the foreign troops leave the country, but do I get it right that the foreign troops are leaving the country?
Well, I don’t think the foreign troops are entirely leaving the country. It is a vital demand of the Taliban that they should see an exit of the foreign troops from Afghanistan. And right there is a huge demand from the Afghan population that part of the foreign forces should remain in Afghanistan for the sake of Afghanistan and for its national interests. First, in order to protect the current processes and achievements in the Afghan population from forces such as terrorists and insurgents who are fighting now. And secondly, they have to be here to guarantee that there is no longer Iran, or Pakistan or any other neighbouring state that wants to once again interfere in Afghanistan and take control of the country.
The end of foreign forces in Afghanistan and their full withdrawal means that once again these foreign countries, after ten years of efforts in Afghanistan, they subcontracting Afghanistan to a country like Pakistan. And of course the Afghan population does not want it. But it is wise to see these preconditions of the Taliban for peace and negotiations. I think that reconciliation is a sub-solution of the political strategy that the Afghan Government should follow. Right now I think there is an overreaction to reconciliation and there is a very black and white approach to end of the conflict in Afghanistan.
I believe there is an understanding in Afghanistan, unfortunately, that if reconciliation is onset in the next 2-3 years, till 2014, then Afghanistan won’t have grim destiny and future and we will survive, if not – then we won’t survive. I don’t think that this black and white approach means anything but a forecast of a defeat in the future of Afghanistan. But if you rather have a multi-polarstrategy considering the peace process as a sub-solution in the political process and at the same time you are implementing other strategies, such as military strategy and security strategy, and of course economics and good governance, I believe that would be a better and a more effective solution to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
Sir, as an expert, how would you advise your Government on its future policy after 2014?
I think there are two major reasons that we have to look beyond 2014 for Afghanistan and look for a survival for the country and the state. One is that we will have an important event such as presidential elections in 2014. And these presidential elections mean that if we hold them – first, we will guarantee the survival of democracy in the country, and secondly, that there will be a change in the leadership. And of course the new leadership would be more willing and effective in many ways for the future of the country. The second major event is that in 2014 and beyond that is that there is a strong will within Afghanistan to continue and work further.
I think among the elite community in Afghanistan there is a huge debate now that we should not be a burden for the international community, firstly. Secondly, we have to go forward with the achievements and with the infrastructures that we have built in terms of state building and nation building in the country. And the third point is that there are generations of Afghans who are supportive of the current process beyond 2014. So, these are the major signs that I could see inside the Afghan Government and in the state at large. And this vision is very clear, that either with the presence of the international community or without it this process in Afghanistan should continue.
Those who are the drivers of the civil war in Afghanistan, they no longer see any future for them in a war and in a conflict. So, for that reason I think the entire picture here in Afghanistan, in Kabul and around the country is that a true political process, such as being a part of power sharing structure in the central Government and in the local governments in Afghanistan and the continuation of a fragile statehood. I think everyone see the future in that rather than in a war or a conflict.
Is there a chance that Islamist party ultimately could come to power in Afghanistan in the foreseeable future, I mean in around 2014 election? The general trend in many countries nowadays is that Islamist parties are coming to power. So, is there a chance that in the election 2014 an Islamist power in Afghanistan might win?
You should not forget that we do not have a secular or Islamist picture of political powers in the country. Afghanistan is a conservative Islamic state where in the last 4-5 decades those who were affected by a modern or radical Islamic interpretation, they have ruled the country. Right now I believe the reality on the ground is that there are mujahidin leaders who are still having support of the people. And of course I do think they will be the part of power sharing structures.
These people who will be part of the power sharing structure, they are the ones who accepted American invasion of Afghanistan, who supported the toppling of the Taliban regime and who drafted a democratic constitution of Afghanistan, and of course were part of establishing the free democratic institutions of the state. So, if they will come, I don’t think we will have a risk of loss of Afghanistan to a radical Islamic group or groups. But if the Taliban will be the future of our country in 2014 or beyond that, then we have to be concerned about the emergence of such radical Islamic groups and ideologies in the country.