Response to academic questionnaire on the ‘Afghan Solution’

1) what factors do you think have contributed the most to the resurgence of the Taliban? How?

  • The exclusion of the Taliban Movement from the 2001 peace settlement and the persecution of members of the Movement in the immediate aftermath of the toppling of their regime.
  • The ideological commitment of the supporters of the Taliban Movement and the cohesiveness of their organization.
  • The reservoir of support for jiihadi, anti-American and anti-Indian causes in Pakistan and some parts of Afghanistan.
  • The pursuit by the Afghan Government of an approach of patrimonialism, which resulted in predatory institutions and the alienation of those who did not benefit from state patronage.
  • The existence of a large pool of marginalized rural youth in the Pashtun areas along the border, whose best hope of achieving prestige was through joining the insurgency.
  • The militarization of the international presence in Afghanistan, which provided a pretext for Taliban and their backers to fight, while never achieving the security that the international forces were supposed to provide.

Together these factors provided the Taliban with the motives and means to launch and sustain their insurgency.

 

 

2) why can’t the Afghan government and the international community negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban?

Because it is complex….

  • The Afghan conflict involves multiple stake-holders, all of whom have some capacity to block any deal contemplated by the others. These stakeholders include the Afghan Government, the various parts of the constitutional opposition, the Taliban, other insurgents, the US Department of State, the US Department of Defence, the ISI…..
  • The Afghan Government has never pursued a “peace deal” with the Taliban Movement. Instead it has tried to persuade individuals or factions in the insurgency to shift their allegiance to the government, basically to surrender and ally themselves to Karzai. Few people in the insurgency have found these terms acceptable.
  • The “international community” has limited capacity and willingness to engage politically in Afghanistan, except under the mantle of the Afghan government. Thus the pursuit by the Government of unrealistic terms blocks international efforts also.
  • The Taliban Movement has a long track record of difficult dealing. It is deliberately inaccessible and introverted. The leadership is not responsible to anyone, and certainly not to its base. It tends to exaggerate its bargaining power and to hold out too long in pursuit of unrealistic objectives.
  • The major players all think they have acceptable alternatives to a negotiated solution, most of which involve sustaining the military campaign.

3) how can we bring an end to the Taliban insurgency?

  • The Taliban Movement will have to be incorporated in the political system on the basis of an intra-Afghan agreement. However whether all or most of the Movement will be party to the agreement is not clear.
  • An internationally backed mediation effort would be one of the ways of moving towards such agreement and securing a ceasefire in the meantime.
  • Afghans will have to put a new leadership into their presidential palace, capable of leading the country, sustaining the current order and making it clear to Taliban supporters that they have no prospect of military victory.
  • More effective means will have to be found to neutralize Pakistan support to insurgents.

By Michael Semple, Fellow at Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Michael_Semple@hks.harvard.edu