Monday, March 29, 2010

Negotiations in Afghanistan

Readers are undoubtedly aware that there has recently arisen a flood of news and commentary about talks and negotiations in Afghanistan. This torrent was released by President Karzai at the international conference on Afghanistan held in London this past January. There, Karzai promoted the idea of negotiations between insurgent leaders and the Government of Afghanistan. The idea got a cool reception from Washington, which prefers to peel off low-level insurgents and rehabilitate them rather than cutting any power-sharing deal with insurgent leaders. Other countries, notably the UK, are more enthusiastic.

Of course, there have been reports since at least 2008 of talks between Afghan government officials and insurgent representatives, most memorably in Saudi Arabia in September, 2008.

One should note at this point that such a plan is not the only type of negotiations which have been talked about in the context of ending the war. Other political leaders, notably the National Peace Jirga of Afghanistan, advocate instead for a jirga which would bring representatives of all Afghans together, rather than simply insurgents and the government.

An interesting side note on the negotiations issue is the recent capture of senior Taliban official Mullah Baradar. While Pakistan's motives for capturing Baradar were at first obscure, it is now widely held that Pakistan is leveraging their habeus corpus of Baradar in order so as not to be left out of unfolding negotiations, for which Baradar has apparently been a key player. In Islamabad's view, the Karzai-inspired talks were destined to cut out Pakistan, perhaps even presaging a tilt toward India, Pakistan's rival. Any negotiations which occur now will have to involve Pakistan.

The Associated Press has the latest on the call for talks, which has attracted Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami to Kabul to make some offers:

Militant group in Kabul with draft peace deal
Deb Riechmann in Kabul

... Harun Zarghun, chief spokesman for Hizb-i-Islami, said a five-member delegation was in Kabul to meet with government officials and also plans to meet with Taliban leaders somewhere in Afghanistan. The group, which has longtime ties to al-Qaida, was founded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister and rebel commander in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s...

Zarghun, the group's spokesman in Pakistan, said the delegation is carrying a 15-point plan that calls for foreign forces to start pulling out in July - a full year ahead of President Barack Obama's desire to start withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011.

The plan also calls for the current Afghan parliament to serve through December. After that, the parliament would be replaced by an interim government, or shura, which would hold local and national elections within a year, according to the plan. Zarghun said a new Afghan constitution would be written, merging the current version with ones used earlier... (link)
Other reports have quoted Hizb-i officials as saying their proposal is a starting point for negotiations, not necessarily a take-it-or-leave-it deal.

Interestingly, the Hizb-i Islami delegation has some unusual supporters - the National Front of Afghanistan. This party is widely considered to be the Northern Alliance in political clothing. (The Northern Alliance being of course the mostly non-Pashtun, Tajik-dominated, coalition which opposed the Taliban regime until 9/11 when the USA provided its air force.)
HIA-govt talks gain traction
By Abdul Qadeer Siddiqui

KABUL, Mar 24 (Pajhwok) - The National Front of Afghanistan (NFA), a political party opposed to President Hamid Karzai, has welcomed covert peace talks between the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) and the government as beneficial for the country.

NFA spokesman Syed Aqa Faazel Sancharaki, in an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, said on Wednesday they supported all the steps taken towards bringing peace and stability, including talks with the HIA...

Also on Wednesday, another political party -- Afghanistan Nationwide Jirga (ANJ) -- lent its weight to the peace parleys with HIA and backed its conditions for fresh presidential, parliamentary and provincial council elections.

A member of the party, Naseem Gul Totakhel, said: "It will be even better if disgruntled elements are also invited to the upcoming traditional peace Jirga slated for April 29." ... (link)
It is difficult to find out anything on the Nationwide Jirga, mentioned above. However, it appears to have some basis in the Pashtun areas of eastern Afghanistan. If so, then the endorsment of the HIA (also abbreviated HIG for Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin) talks is coming from both Tajik and Pashtun quarters. An intriguing development to be sure.

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