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Negotiating a Peace in Afghanistan

Recently there has been a lot of media attention paid to suggestions from certain Afghan leaders that the time is ripe to negotiate with elements of the Taliban. Some news reports would have us believe that this is due to a powerful resurgence of the Taliban, and NATO and the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) are unable to counter that threat. Other reporters, especially those with a little more experience on the ground, will give other reasons as well. In truth no one is really talking about negotiating with the leadership of the Taliban.

Why not?
The hard core, dedicated Taliban will not negotiate in good faith – they desire only one thing: the return to the extreme theocratic state that they created in 1996. Negotiations will and can only be attempted with other elements of the insurgency, none of which are truly Taliban, but which have been coerced onto their side because of:

• Western incompetence in understanding the nature of tribalism in Afghanistan;

• NGO/GO incompetence/inefficient aid support to some areas and not others;

• Failure of the Afghan government to connect with its citizens; and

• Coercion, at gunpoint, by the Taliban.

The issue now has two elements:

1. Who to negotiate with, and what do they want that we (as interested parties) can give. By the nature of the beast, the less extreme elements of the Anti-Government-Forces (hereafter AGF) will become disaffected by the more extreme elements, and these are the people to focus on. The recent success of the US led coalition in Iraq has been due to the Anbar Salvation Council joining with the US and Iraqi government to rid the province of Al-Qaeda. This development suggests that not only do the extremists push the less extreme away (also killing and murdering them), but it leads to the realization that the enemy of the more moderate insurgents is not really the enemy after all. Ultimately these people came to understand that the true enemy of both sides is Al-Qaeda and other extremist terror organizations.

2. Why?

The majority of the foot-soldiers in this war, are not die hard believers in salafist wahabbism, but simply out of work men who need to support their families and have some sense of pride in their lives.

A great deal of the “middle management” are not die harders either, they are village or tribal elders who have been ignored or bankrupted by the rules that the West has come in and forced/encouraged the Afghan government to adopt.

The third group, the senior warlords (some, maybe most of whom are also drug lords)– is like the second. It initially supported (was part of) the Northern Alliance and actively supported the efforts to oust the Taliban.

These three groups have a common theme – that their lives were impacted (real or imagined) by the installation of the Afghan Central Government and its westernized methods for doing business.

They are the people with whom the Afghan government can and should negotiate. They are NOT the Taliban.

Negotiations can bring decisive regional victories. However negotiations must begin with realistic goals and expectations, and with points that are not, inherently, deal breakers. Participants cannot compromise their principles in order to secure a peace, for a bad peace will just promote more war. The Ruxted Group has seen in Anbar province of Iraq that negotiating with moderates can be a way forward in an insurgency. Canada should support the Afghan authorities in setting realistic goals and expectations as a starting point toward negotiating peace.


The Ruxted Group on : More on Negotiations

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More on Negotiations Former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament and current Rideau Institute ‘senior advisor’ Peggy Mason continues, a recent letter to the Globe and Mail, to press her case for negotiations, now, in Afghanistan. This time she uses the


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