Years In The Making
The idea of reaching out to most former members of the Taliban regime is not new. In April 2003, Karzai urged Afghans to draw a "clear line" between "the ordinary Taliban who are real and honest sons of this country," on one hand, and those "who still use the Taliban cover to disturb peace and security in the country," on the other (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003). While the reconciliation program has garnered some success in attracting a limited number of the latter (neo-Taliban), most of the major success cases have represented former detainees or low-level figures within the insurgency.
The reconciliation policy, articulated more clearly by Karzai after April 2003, initially maintained that some 100-150 former members of the Taliban regime are known to have committed crimes against the Afghan people; all others, whether dormant or active within the ranks of the neo-Taliban, could begin living like normal citizens by denouncing violence and renouncing their opposition to the central Afghan government.
As Kabul has sought to garner support from among the ranks of neo-Taliban or former members of the Taliban regime, government sources have gradually begun to refer to the armed opposition -- which calls itself either "mujahedin" or simply "Taliban" -- as "antigovernment forces" or "enemies of Afghanistan's peace and prosperity."
Then in May, Sebghatullah Mojaddedi, who heads the Peace Commission, said that government policy had been changed and that the amnesty offer included all members of the Taliban regime -- including its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 May 2005). Karzai initially backed Mojaddedi's comments before -- seemingly on the heels of domestic and international outcry -- both backed away from their statements.
During a meeting of the Peace Commission in November, Karzai attempted to split the ranks of the neo-Taliban between the Afghanistan-based opposition and those whose support comes from abroad. Praising the work of the Peace Commission, the Afghan president said that "a lot of our brothers who were in foreign countries have returned to Afghanistan." Without naming any countries, Karzai told the gathering that "interfering foreign hands should be cut." He added: "The hand that carries out destruction [in Afghanistan] should be cut off. We should stop foreigners killing our doctors, school teachers, engineers, and particularly the country's religious scholars." Mojaddedi was less diplomatic, suggesting that some Pakistani Army officers and that country's Inter-Services Intelligence might be assisting the neo-Taliban -- prompting official criticism from Islamabad.
At the November meeting of provincial officials in Kabul, Karzai singled out the presence among attendees of former Taliban Foreign Minister Mawlawi Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil as a positive development in the work of the commission, which Mojaddedi says has managed to offer reconciliation to around 700 opponents of the government. While Mutawakkil was an important figure within the Taliban regime, he was not part of the neo-Taliban; in fact, he was arrested in Pakistan soon after the collapse of the Taliban government and handed over to U.S. authorities, who imprisoned him before releasing him in October 2003 as part of Karzai's early attempts to make peace with resurgent militants. Moreover, the 700 figure presented by Mojaddedi does not include any key figures from among those who have kept parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan in a constant state of insecurity.
Afghanistan essentially completed the last step prescribed in the 2001 Bonn Agreement for laying the foundations of democratic governance through its elections for the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) and Provincial Councils in September. The country is expected to have its first elected parliament since 1965 in place in mid-December. And there are a number of former Taliban members among the elected parliamentarians. However, the political triumphs have not translated into any significant indication that neo-Taliban fighters -- or, as Kabul would have it, "the enemies of Afghanistan's peace and prosperity" -- are ready to end their destructive campaign.
Afghans appear to be in one of two camps: There are those who favor a policy that regards the neo-Taliban as a bunch of foreign-backed insurgents who might be persuaded to embrace the reconciliation program; and there are others who view the Taliban as ideological foes who must be eliminated.
In a recent editorial, the pro-administration daily "Anis" wrote that reconciliation with the armed opposition is the only path toward peace in Afghanistan. The editorial argued that Kabul should offer the opposition "an amnesty and the opportunity to participate in the government," and should try to "deliver a truly Islamic Republic of Afghanistan" to the "disgruntled brothers." Meanwhile, Aina TV, which is based in the northern Afghan city of Sheberghan, recently aired an interview with an Afghan political analyst who claimed that whenever the Afghan government has called on the neo-Taliban to participate in the reconciliation process, the militants have responded by escalating their attacks. The analyst, Fazl Ahmad Borgut, argued that the "Taliban do not just have arms, but a tough ideology." According to Borgut, the Taliban "do not change their ideology."
During a recent trip to Austria, Karzai commented that the "Taliban and their ideology are a thing of the past; there is no doubt about that."
An answer for the perpetrators of the recent upsurge in violence -- including an increasing reliance on suicide missions -- should be studied further, and the enemy haunting parts of Afghanistan should be identified more accurately, so that broader segments of Afghan society can participate in the campaign against such forces.