Sunday, April 20, 2014

Splintered Taliban Thwarts Afghan Peace

KABUL – When voter registration stations opened in southern Afghanistan several months ago, officials feared they would be attacked by Taliban fighters who control much of the region. Instead, the process went smoothly and not a shot was fired. There were even reports of local Taliban members encouraging people to register and support them at the polls in August.

But when a Taliban commander in Wardak province accepted an offer of reconciliation last month from the government, which is trying to persuade “moderate Taliban” fighters to lay down their weapons and participate in the elections, he was shot dead three days later. Officials said the order to kill him came from Taliban authorities.

These accounts demonstrate the confusing, contradictory forces at work as the government in Kabul, with encouragement from the United Nations and the Obama administration, attempts to find a peaceful way out of a conflict that has taken thousands of lives since 2001, involved tens of thousands of foreign troops and become entangled in a wider, increasingly deadly regional campaign for Islamist control.

According to experts and officials here, including several Afghans who served in the Taliban government of 1996 to 2001, there is a widespread desire among Afghan Taliban fighters to seek a settlement that would end intervention by NATO forces on one side and foreign Islamists, including al-Qaeda, on the other.

But on Wednesday, a coordinated attack by suicide bombers on a government complex in the southern city of Kandahar underscored the sustained level of insurgent violence that continues to plague Afghanistan. In the midday attack, which killed 14 people, three bombers disguised as police officers stormed the compound after a fourth detonated a truck outside the gates. Some 80 fighters have been killed in clashes with Afghan and NATO forces in the past four days alone.

“We are very concerned about the foreign fighters and al-Qaeda, and we are trying to isolate the Afghan Taliban from them,” said Anwar Rahmani, a Muslim cleric and national legislator who has been asked by President Hamid Karzai to reach out to the Taliban. “They are Afghans, too, and they should be part of our government.”

Rahmani, who wears a dark turban and long beard, held several government posts during Taliban rule but never joined the movement. He said the best plan might be to open talks on lesser issues, such as releasing prisoners, in order to build trust and move toward larger insurgent demands, such as the withdrawal of NATO troops. Karzai has dispatched other emissaries, including one of his brothers and a former Taliban ambassador, to hold preliminary talks with insurgents.

The Afghan government has also received strong support for peace talks from the Obama administration, which fears being dragged into an open-ended war. This week, Karzai and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the issue at a conference in The Hague, where Clinton said moderate Taliban insurgents should be offered “an honorable form of reconciliation” if they abandon their armed fight and break ties with al-Qaeda.

But Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid rejected the offer Wednesday, calling it a “lunatic idea,” according to the Reuters news agency. There is strong resistance to negotiations among some Taliban leaders and their powerful allies abroad, including groups in Pakistan and in Persian Gulf nations. The experts and officials said this poses enormous obstacles to a peaceful settlement and will make it difficult to extricate the Afghan conflict from the growing ideological and strategic war surrounding it.

Afghans as well as foreign diplomats pointed to neighboring Pakistan — specifically to individuals and groups within its military, intelligence and religious communities — as the central arbiters of Afghanistan’s fate. While the Pakistani government is officially aligned with the United States against the Taliban, the Pakistani military and intelligence service played a critical role in creating the Afghan Islamist militia during the 1990s. Analysts say that elements within Pakistan retain an interest in keeping Afghanistan unstable and the Taliban active, but they have shown they can rein in the Afghan fighters when it suits their needs.

“The key is to get the big players in Pakistan to sign on to the elections,” said one diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. In 2004, he said, Pakistani officials agreed to support elections in Afghanistan at Washington’s request and sent out the word through several key intermediaries; as a result the polling was entirely peaceful.

The diplomat and several Afghan experts said that the same thing happened during the recent voter registration here, and that it could happen again in August if Taliban “handlers” in Pakistan approve bringing the Afghan insurgents — who depend on outside support for weapons, money and physical sanctuary — into the election. “It worked before, and we are all working hard to ensure it works in August,” the diplomat said.

But there are other factors, especially the stunning growth of extremist Islamist ideology in Pakistan and other Muslim countries, that may be spilling beyond the control of such institutional handlers. In the past several years, religious militants have gained dominance over much of Pakistan’s tribal northwest, and they are now asserting responsibility for a series of deadly terrorist attacks across the country.

Recent efforts by Pakistani authorities to negotiate peace accords with several of these groups now appear to be in serious jeopardy. One peace deal with Taliban fighters that included imposing strict Islamic law in the scenic Swat Valley, seen by some as a possible role model for Afghanistan, seemed to be collapsing Wednesday in a rash of Taliban kidnappings and assassination attempts against area officials.

In Afghanistan, some experts said the original limited goals of the Taliban leaders, who took power in 1996 seeking to build an orderly Islamic state, have metastasized through exposure to al-Qaeda and radicalized Pakistani militants into a more ambitious target of world Islamist dominance.

Unlike the original Taliban, mostly Afghan villagers who fought with rifles and grenades, the new insurgents employ suicide bombings and other terrorist tactics associated with extreme indoctrination. “The Taliban will negotiate smaller issues for their own interests, but they will never be ready to negotiate peace,” said Waheed Mojda, a former government aide during Taliban rule who now lectures and writes about the insurgency. “Their ideology is much broader now. It has become a world struggle for an Islamic caliphate with Afghanistan at the center. They don’t want to participate in political power. What they want to do is keep fighting, to kill and be killed.”

The evidence for such thinking is becoming more grimly apparent with incidents such as the murder of the Taliban commander in Wardak. In Kandahar province, Mojda said, some local insurgents wanted to participate in voter registration but were forbidden from doing so. In Helmand province, where several districts are now under Taliban rule, one insurgent leader told al-Jazeera television this week that he would like to reconcile but feared for his life.

Even members of the national council of Muslim clergy here, who strongly urged Karzai to begin negotiations with the Taliban, are alarmed and confused about the increasingly violent militancy in Pakistan.

“We need to negotiate with our own people. It is the only way to bring peace,” said Enayatullah Balegh, leader of a Kabul mosque and a member of the clerical council. “But we cannot trust Pakistan or the Taliban there. They keep calling for justice, but they keep beheading people. With those Taliban, there can be no justice and no peace.”

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 3, 2009; A08

New Afghan law worries Nato chief

Nato’s head says it could be difficult to persuade European countries to contribute more troops to Afghanistan because of controversial new laws.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the planned laws violated human rights and were unjustifiable when Nato troops were dying to protect universal values.

Critics say the law limits the rights of women from the Shia minority and authorises rape within marriage.

Aides to President Karzai insist the law provides more protection for women.

Permission

Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the BBC’s Mark Mardell: “We are there to defend universal values and when I see, at the moment, a law threatening to come into effect which fundamentally violates women’s rights and human rights, that worries me.”

He added: “I have a problem to explain and President Karzai knows this, because I discussed it with him. I have a problem to explain to a critical public audience in Europe, be it the UK or elsewhere, why I’m sending the guys to the Hindu Kush.”

France’s Human Rights Minister Rama Yade also expressed her “sharp concern” at the law, saying it “recalls the darkest hours of Afghanistan’s history”.

The UN earlier said it was seriously concerned about the potential impact of the law.

Human rights activists say it reverses many of the freedoms won by Afghan women in the seven years since the Taleban were driven from power.

They say it removes the right of women to refuse their husbands sex, unless they are ill.

Women will also need to get permission from their husbands if they want to leave their homes, unless there is an emergency.

The law covers members of Afghanistan’s Shia minority, who make up 10% of the population.

It was rushed through parliament in February and was backed by influential Shia clerics and Shia political parties.

Defenders of the law say it is an improvement on the customary laws which normally decide family matters.

A separate family law for the Sunni majority is now also being drawn up.

Nato is holding its annual summit in Strasbourg.

President Obama is to present his new Afghan strategy to his allies.

Ahead of the meeting, a number of leading charities warned that an increase in military deployments in Afghanistan could lead to a rise in civilian casualties.

They called on Nato leaders gathering in Strasbourg to do more to protect the population.

Last year more than 2,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan.

In a report titled Caught in the Conflict, 11 aid groups including Oxfam, ActionAid and Care called on Nato to change the way it operates.

“The troop surge will fail to achieve greater overall security and stability unless the military prioritise the protection of Afghan civilians,” Matt Waldman, head of policy for Oxfam International on Afghanistan, said.

Story from BBC NEWS:

A World in Need of a New Order

Future historians might look at the collapse of the Soviet Union as the end of the 20th century, and at the current financial crisis as the beginning of the 21st. Remarkably, these two macro events have a common root, which is also the root of globalization: the revolution of Information Technologies.

In the 1970s, the IT revolution accelerated the arms race; the Soviet Union proved unable to follow the United States. Ultimately, the Marxist-Leninist system and ideology vanished.

The financial and more generally the managerial revolution occurred in the 1980s. The world economy embarked on a strong and stable upswing. In the 1990s, many could believe that democracy and market economy had won an irreversible victory and would quickly spread everywhere.

The “international community,” led by the United States, seemed to be on the way to universal peace and prosperity. It was a dream. History came back under the presidency of George W. Bush, starting with 9/11 and ending with the burst of an unprecedented asset bubble. The institutional framework of world governance erected since World War II proved a failure.

What the international community can and must demonstrate now is a willingness to undertake a full reconstruction The G-20 summit would be a great success if it could achieve just that, in addition to agreeing on credible immediate economic and financial measures.

Any attempt to rebuild governance must recognize that the new international system must be multipolar, heterogeneous and global.

Multipolarity means that although the United States will remain the only superpower for the foreseeable future, it can no longer pretend to lead the world alone. This is why we need a relevant group of permanent members for the U.N. Security Council, which would potentially include at least the following five natural “poles” – the United States, Japan, China, Russia and European Union. The members of this group should recognize they collectively share responsibilities for a politically sustainable globalization process, including such issues as climate change.

They should recognize that collective leadership implies taking into account the interests of smaller states. In particular, efficiency and legitimacy imply that regional approaches should systematically be encouraged and developed. For example, no peace and security framework in the Middle East is conceivable without Iran as a major regional partner.

Heterogeneity is a crucial reality. Such countries as China or Russia will not become liberal democracies in the foreseeable future, not to speak of many smaller states. Nonetheless, Western countries should cooperate and develop confidence-building measures with all of them. They should refrain from arrogant neo-colonial attitudes. Democracy and human rights should spread by virtue of examples set by those who claim the superiority of these values.

There is no way to maintain an open world without strong states able and willing to cooperate through efficient and legitimate frameworks. If we fail to move in this direction, we risk reproducing a kind of post-World War I scenario: The combination of nationalist forces and beggar-thy-neighbor protectionist policies could lead to a planetary disaster.

By THIERRY DE MONTBRIAL

New York Times

Thierry de Montbrial is founder and president of the French Institute of International Relations.