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Peace moves in Afghanistan as fighting goes on

Thousands of Taliban insurgents have been killed but the movement is still strong

Talks about peace talks with Taliban insurgents are gaining unprecedented momentum, but fighting in Afghanistan is continuing, with catastrophic consequences for civilians.

President Hamid Karzai acknowledges making contact with senior Taliban members and has appointed a 68-member Peace Council, led by warlords and well-known anti-Taliban figures, to facilitate a peace deal with the largely Pashtun insurgents.

The Taliban have rejected formal contacts with Kabul and dubbed the process “futile propaganda”. They have repeatedly vowed not to engage in any negotiations until all foreign forces leave Afghanistan.

Ordinary Afghans are suffering the most. The conflict has killed and wounded thousands over the past few years, according to the UN.

“We have kept the peace door open since 2002,” Baryalai Helali, spokesman of the government’s National Peace Programme (NPP), told IRIN, adding that there had been “some deficiencies” in previous peace efforts.

NPP is supposed to implement Peace Council decisions and help reintegrate insurgents who lay down their arms.

“The US war in Afghanistan is now the longest in our history, and is costing US taxpayers nearly US$100 billion per year… Prosecuting the war in Afghanistan is not essential to US security,” a group of American scholars calling themselves the Afghanistan Study Group said in a report in September.

Meanwhile, Taliban confidence appears to be growing: “We inform our Muslim nation that victory is imminent as the enemy is desperately seeking [an] exit,” said a recent Taliban statement.

Richard Barrett, coordinator of the UN al-Qaeda-Taliban monitoring team, however, believes the Taliban are “beginning to look at alternatives to fighting”.

Sticking point: Mullah Omar

The government has dropped the term “moderate Taliban” which it used in previous peace efforts: President Karzai has invited all Taliban, including their reclusive supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, to peace talks.

However, Washington has rejected a role for Mullah Omar in the peace process.

“I can’t imagine Mullah Omar playing a constructive role in Afghanistan… Our focus on Mullah Omar, from a US standpoint, is based on his complicity in support of al-Qaeda that led to the plot of 9/11,” Philip J. Crowley, assistant secretary in the US State Department, told reporters on 14 October.

President Karzai has appointed warlords and anti-Taliban figures to broker a peace deal with the insurgents

President Karzai has appointed warlords and anti-Taliban figures to broker a peace deal with the insurgents
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Peace moves in Afghanistan as fighting goes on
President Karzai has appointed warlords and anti-Taliban figures to broker a peace deal with the insurgents

Photo: Salih/IRIN
President Hamid Karzai reaches out

Omar, who has never been photographed or seen on TV, reportedly heads the movement’s so-called “Quetta Shura” based in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province.

“There can be no peace or even peace talks without Mullah Omar,” Waheed Mujhda, an Afghan analyst and former Taliban official, told IRIN. All efforts to isolate and marginalize Omar have failed, he said.

“The fate of Omar is a contentious issue between President Karzai and his American patrons,” said Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analyst Network (AAN), a Kabul-based research group.

NPP spokesman Helali said the government was ready to vouchsafe Omar’s security if he chose to engage in peace talks.

Words versus action

While the debate about peace talks continues, more than 300 mid-level Taliban commanders have been killed or captured over the past three months in an intensified US-led counter-insurgency operation, according to David Petraeus, commander of all foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Air strikes against alleged Taliban positions have reportedly risen by over 150 percent in 2010 compared to last year.

There are about 150,000 foreign forces, mainly from the USA, in Afghanistan - more than at any time since the war against the Taliban began in late 2001.

“The Americans want to disrupt and weaken the insurgency and by doing so force the Taliban into peace talks from a position of weakness,” said AAN’s Bijlert.

However, while the Taliban have always been defeated in open combat, they have managed to regroup subsequently, experts say. Taliban attacks, including suicide bombings, have risen sharply over the past three years, according to UN and other organizations monitoring the conflict.

“In 2005 foreign military commanders were saying there were 10,000 Taliban insurgents but in the past five years they have killed over 20,000 alleged Taliban so where are we now?” said former Taliban official Mujhda.

“Peace talks usually require confidence-building rather than increased military operations,” said Bijlert.

Activists sceptical

Karzai has expressed optimism that his Peace Council will broker a peace deal with the Taliban, but human rights activists have called the Council an unlikely peacemaker.

Some experts accuse Karzai of using the Peace Council as a sop to his political opponents, many of whom are members of the Council, to ensure his own political survival, particularly after the withdrawal of foreign forces.

“The Council lacks the confidence of both Mr Karzai and the Taliban,” said Mujhda.

The government rejects such criticisms and says the time is ripe for peace and reconciliation, but for now the Taliban are unwilling to play ball.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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