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West recognizes special role of Taliban in Afghanistan

The movement likely to participate in the country's future leadership

12.03.2019 18:31 Georgy Asatryan, President of Syndicate Consulting Group, senior lecturer at the Russian State University for the Humanities

West recognizes special role of Taliban in Afghanistan

An embedded stereotype says that the United States and the West as a whole are tough opponents of the Taliban movement (banned in Russia), intends to fight it to the bitter end and is not going to negotiate. At least, such a stereotype existed until recently. In February 2018, a political sensation took place and a negotiation process with the Taliban was launched.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani acted as the chief peacemaker and offered his hand to the Taliban, declaring his readiness to recognize the radical movement as a political party and grant freedom to Taliban prisoners. Radicals were also invited to take part in various-level elections and become a full-fledged political force. This was perhaps last year's major milestone for Afghanistan.

The parties to the conflict – Kabul and the Taliban – realized the impossibility of a military victory. The US administration has changed, and at least at the first sight tends towards a simulacrum of isolationism, especially in the East. The peace process launched early last year implies a permanent negotiation process in various influential capitals. Official Kabul and representatives of the Taliban movement were assumed to start looking for compromise options of breaking the deadlock.

However, the movement stood its ground and refused to engage in any dialogue with Kabul's "puppet regime". As a result, the negotiation process is mainly underway between the Taliban and the United States, as well as representatives of regional and world powers. Involved in the process are Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Iran.

It seems that until recently the European Union and the US (to a certain extent) have not seen any alternatives to the Afghan war. But that's not the case.

The website of the leading Afghan Tolo News TV channel featured an interesting article by Kai Aage Eide, former director of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The article went largely unnoticed.

The political mission was formed in mid 2002 with the aim of strengthening and consolidating efforts of the international community in assisting the development of Afghanistan after the October 2001 overthrow of the Taliban regime. UNAMA was established by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1401.

Last year, the mission's mandate was extended until March 2019. The entity was created at the request of the official Kabul authorities and enjoys the full support of the United States and the government of Afghanistan, as well as the entire international community.

Kai Aage Eide is a Norwegian diplomat. He was appointed the United Nations Special Representative to Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on March 7, 2008, a position he held until March 2010 when Staffan de Mistura took over. Previously the Norwegian served as the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General in Kosovo in 2005. It was his report to the Secretary General of the United Nations on the political situation in former Serbian province of Kosovo that resulted in the beginning of negotiations that ultimately brought about a controversial and disputed unilateral declaration of Kosovo's independence in 2008.

In his article, the Norwegian diplomat calls for actually giving power in Afghanistan to the Taliban movement in a surprisingly blunt manner. "At the Kabul Process Conference on February 28, President Ashraf Ghani proposed a beginning of peace talks with the Taliban without any preconditions. He suggested recognizing the movement as a legitimate political group.

The new peace plan was more comprehensive than anything previously presented and did not contain any bellicose language that had prevailed in the past. It did not insult the Taliban, called on Pakistan to "bring" the enemy to the negotiating table, and addressed the Taliban explicitly. Moreover, the peace plan was not submitted as an ultimatum. On the contrary, the document says that the Taliban are expected to contribute to the peace process, the purpose of which is to turn the movement into a negotiator. In short: it was something very new, " Eide writes.

"If the Taliban needs more time before giving a definitive answer, I consider this a positive sign. The government and its partners must have spent weeks – perhaps months – developing the plan. Demanding a quick and simple "yes" or "no" from the opposite party would not only be unreasonable, but would contradict the tone and substance of Kabul's plan and undermine its credibility. Despite many positive elements, on the part of the Taliban the plan is challenging, too.

So far, the two main positions of the movement have remained unchanged. First of all, the Taliban insisted on direct negotiations with the United States. This should have been preceded by discussions with the Afghans themselves. Secondly, they continue to reject "direct talks" with the Afghan government, which has no legitimacy," the Norwegian emphasizes.

Then the diplomat goes on to say: "I suppose there is a certain logic in the Taliban's desire to talk to the United States. The military strategy was primarily formulated by Washington. The US military presence in Afghanistan was enormous – at one of the stages it accounted for 100 000 troops. Moreover, the current Afghan government was created as a result of a United States' interference.

In light of its dominant position as regards determining military strategy, the US should also assume a more prominent role in shaping the world order. In the past US representatives met with the Taliban in Doha and Europe. However, my conviction, based on the recent discussions, is that contacts between the US and the Taliban could open up to meaningful negotiations within Afghanistan, including those between the Taliban and the government."

Next comes the most important and forthright words. "I had the opportunity to conduct a dialogue with the Taliban for nine years. I do not believe that the Taliban have any ambition to return to the dark times of the 1990s. I also do not believe that the Taliban want to isolate Afghanistan from the international community. The movement realizes the country's need for the presence of foreigners and for being assisted in its development and prosperity.

At this stage, a confidential exchange of views is essential. What is needed is a research phase to determine whether there is an adequate framework for negotiations. Such confidentiality is required to ensure that each party to the conflict is given a chance to present a narrative to its audience. These negotiations could be a turning point for Afghanistan," Eide points out.

Thus, we see the unparalleled thoughts of a person with an inside knowledge of the Afghan affairs who had face-to-face contacts with all the parties to the conflict. To say that the Norwegian diplomat's viewpoint fits neither the Afghan nor the general American and global mainstream, is an understatement.

First, the diplomat's article was published in Afghanistan's leading media outlet. In addition, this resource is owned by an Afghan millionaire, a representative of the Tajik community that takes the very idea of negotiations with a grain of salt, to put it mildly. However, as we can see, this position is welcomed not only by Pashtun nationalists in Afghanistan, but also by bigshots of the international community, including the UN.

Secondly, the Norwegian is free-tongued and earnest when noting that the Taliban have changed and realized their position, the developments in the region and the world in general. Thirdly, Ashraf Ghani has apparently commanded support of a wide swath of international bureaucracy, and not just in the United States. Fourthly, Kai Aage Eide speaks of the Taliban as if they actually were the future leadership of Afghanistan.

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