24 January 2013
“Peace and reconciliation stands as a major and pivotal issue in the Afghan government’s policy to seek an end to this devastating war,” remarked President Hamid Karzai, a year after the launch of the Afghanistan peace and reintegration program. This process was initially introduced in 2009 by U.S. President Barack Obama’s ‘Afghanistan-Pakistan Strategy,’ which identified reconciliation as a possible means to end a conflict the U.S. acknowledged it was losing. Thus the London Conference on Afghanistan set in motion a peace process, which entailed a military and political strategy aimed at encouraging Taliban fighters to accept the Afghan constitution, renounce violence, and break ties with al-Qaeda. However, almost two years in to the peace process, the Afghan government and international community has little to show for its efforts.
In June 2010, 1500 participants gathered at the National Consultative Peace Jirga in Kabul, which endorsed the creation of a High Peace Council (HPC) mandated to carry out the activities under reconciliation and reintegration. Incorrectly deemed a pre-requisite to reintegration, reconciliation efforts have been largely unsuccessful in enticing the top tier of the insurgency to stop fighting and enter peace talks, while the former has witnessed the successful reintegration of over 5000 insurgents as of date.
One of the factors underpinning the relative success of reintegration efforts has been the heterogeneous characteristic of the insurgency. Those who have reintegrated are less inclined ideologically—identifying war weariness, the lack of transparency in the insurgency’s own peace talks, the constant threat of drone attacks, and the desire to give their families a better future, as reasons for leaving the insurgency.
Alternatively, the reconciliation process has had fewer achievements since 2010. Those noteworthy have been the disclosure of U.S. talks with Tayyab Agha, a close aid of Mullah Omar, in 2011; Taliban entering peace talks and endorsing the opening of a liaison office in Qatar in January 2012; in Japan, the very first attendance of a senior Taliban official at a peace conference in June 2012; and most recently the creation of a Pakistan-U.S. bilateral commission to bring Taliban to the negotiation table and the release of Taliban prisoners which followed thereafter.
On the other hand, every setback in the reconciliation process has resulted in reversing efforts back to the starting point. For instance, though many in Kabul still speculate that talks with the Taliban are on-going, the Taliban ‘formally’ suspended talks in April 2012 after it claimed its demands for entering negotiations were not met. As such, the Taliban liaison office and all other confidence-building measures that were made have become redundant.
The future of the Afghan peace process remains ambiguous, to say the least. It lacks transparency and inclusivity, and when combined with an incoherent national foreign policy, regional dissidence, rising levels of violence, and shaky U.S.-Afghan relations, it has the potential to embed local pessimism and resistance.
Mariam Safi is a DPhil candidate in international relations at the University of Sussex and an expert on Afghanistan, holding research interests in nation building, peace processes, and counter-insurgency. She was the former Deputy Director of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she led several innovative research projects on topics such as the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, the status of traditional dispute mechanisms, and the role of women in the judicial sector.
This article was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier's January/February 2013 print edition.