A Tale of Two Rec­on­cil­i­a­tions

The peo­ple of Afghanistan must be given a break from three decades of vi­o­lence and blood­shed. War­ring fac­tions must bury the past and move for­ward on the road to peace, progress and sta­bil­ity.

Southasia - - Region - By Dr. Moo­nis Ahmar

Afghanistan is the only coun­try in mod­ern his­tory which has ex­pe­ri­enced mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions by two su­per­pow­ers: the Soviet Union and the United States. Great Bri­tain also tried to es­tab­lish its mil­i­tary foothold over Afghanistan but failed. Since De­cem­ber 2001, Afghanistan is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the long­est spell of mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion in its mod­ern his­tory and still, there is no clear in­di­ca­tion that the U.S. and NATO forces plan to com­pletely wrap up their mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions after 2014. The whole ef­fort on the part of the United States and the Karzai regime to have covert talks with the Tal­iban is to main­tain the sta­tus quo in terms of keep­ing con­trol over the power struc­ture while also ac­com­mo­dat­ing the mod­er­ate el­e­ments.

While mak­ing a com­par­a­tive anal­y­sis of the pol­icy of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion out­lined by the then Afghan Pres­i­dent Dr. Na­jibul­lah on De­cem­ber 30, 1986 and the present one by Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai in 2010, one can come up with a nar­ra­tive that his­tory is re­peat­ing it­self. The two pro­cesses of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion launched with dif­fer­ent pur­poses and at dif­fer­ent times, how­ever, con­verge on the fact that the is­sues of le­git­i­macy and ide­ol­ogy still shape the in­ter­nal dy­nam­ics of Afghanistan.

Fol­low­ing the as­sump­tion of power by Dr. Na­jibul­lah from Mr. Babrak Kar­mal in May 1986, the Soviet backed regime in Kabul ven­tured on the pol­icy of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with a ma­jor pur­pose to seek le­git­i­macy for his frag­ile power base and pro­vide a safe exit strat­egy to the Soviet oc­cu­py­ing forces. Fur­ther­more, in or­der to ap­pease Is­lamists, who had waged a ‘Je­had’ against what they called Com- mu­nists, he tried to move from left to the cen­ter po­si­tion by chang­ing the name of rul­ing Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) to Hizbi-Watan party, al­low­ing multi-party sys­tem and by giv­ing a re­li­gious color to his gov­ern­ment. But time was not on his side. De­spite his pas­sion­ate ap­peal which he made while ad­dress­ing the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly in June 1988 for sup­port­ing his pol­icy of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, his po­si­tion weak­ened with the pas­sage of time. Back to back events like the col­lapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the fail­ure of in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly the United States to help Afghanistan cope with chal­lenges em­a­nat­ing from the Soviet mil­i­tary with­drawal and the height­en­ing of civil war ul­ti­mately led to his res­ig­na­tion in April 1992 and even­tual bru­tal death at the hands of Tal­iban in Septem­ber 1996.

Dr. Na­jibul­lah, be­ing the ar­chi­tect of the pol­icy of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion how­ever failed to win the sup­port from the ma­jor stake­hold­ers in the Afghan con­flict, i.e. the Afghan Mu­jahideen groups, Pak­istan, Iran and the United States. The Soviet Union it­self was passing through a turbulent phase in late 1980s and was un­able to play an as­sertive role in Afghanistan,

a fact which was nar­rated by Heela Na­jibul­lah, presently a re­searcher at the Delhi Pol­icy Group and daugh­ter of Dr. Na­jibu­lah in her il­lu­mi­nat­ing talk on, “Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Process in Afghanistan: Past and Present” given at the Willy Brandt School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, Univer­sity of Er­furt, Ger­many re­cently.

Mu­jahideen groups not only pos­sessed ex­treme lack of trust and hos­til­ity vis-à-vis Dr. Na­jibul­lah but he was also held re­spon­si­ble for bru­tal killing of hun­dreds of Afghans when he was the head of the Afghan se­cret ser­vice, KHAD. His gov­ern­ment was con­sid­ered il­le­git­i­mate, devoid of pop­u­lar sup­port and in­ca­pable of pur­su­ing the am­bi­tious pro­gram of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Nei­ther the do­mes­tic, nor the re­gional or the in­ter­na­tional sit­u­a­tion fa­vored his vi­sion of unit­ing the Afghans re­gard­less of their po­lit­i­cal and eth­nic dis­cords for peace and sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan.

Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai’s ini­tia­tive to launch the process of di­a­logue with Tal­iban is given the name of the pol­icy of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. As the U.S. and al­lied forces face grow­ing re­sis­tance from Tal­iban groups and Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­solve to with­draw Amer­i­can forces from Afghanistan by 2014, one can ob­serve fresh im­pe­tus given to Karzai’s drive to build a new Afghan so­ci­ety by seek­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with war­ring groups.

It is an­other ques­tion that Tal­iban lead­er­ship un­der Mul­lah Umer, the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani net­work re­ject Karzai’s drive for na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. They are how­ever will­ing to talk to the United States but not with Karzai gov­ern­ment which they term as il­le­git­i­mate. Re­ports about se­cret talks go­ing on be­tween Tal­iban and the U.S. un­der Ber­lin’s me­di­a­tion in Ger­many de­pict a fun­da­men­tal change in Wash­ing­ton’s ap­proach on deal­ing with the re­sis­tance groups, a fact which also ex­isted dur­ing Dr. Na­jibul­lah’s time when the Sovi­ets sup­ported his pol­icy of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and of­fered to in­clude a key Mu­jahideen leader Ahmed Shah Ma­sood as the De­fense Min­is­ter in his pro­posed broad-based gov­ern­ment.

While ex­am­in­ing the tale of two rec­on­cil­i­a­tions, one is amazed to ob­serve sev­eral analo­gies rather than con­trasts. The con­trasts may be that Dr. Na­jibul­lah’s rec­on­cil­i­a­tion drive was car­ried out when the Soviet forces had oc­cu­pied Afghanistan and Moscow in view of its fail­ures was des­per­ate to seek an honor­able with­drawal. Fur­ther­more, the United States and Pak­istan were not sup­port­ive to that type of an ini­tia­tive be­cause they con­sid­ered him not only a protégé of Moscow but also in­volved in ruth­less per­se­cu­tion of his ad­ver­saries. Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai’s strat­egy of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion has been launched when the U.S. led coali­tion is bat­tling with the Tal­iban re­sis­tance groups and is in dire need of an exit strat­egy but ma­jor ac­tors in­clud­ing Pak­istan are sup­port­ing the present rec­on­cil­i­a­tion drive. Both pro­cesses how­ever fail to learn lessons from his­tory and try to evade some of the ba­sic re­quire­ments which the par­ties in­volved in a con­flict must keep into con­sid­er­a­tion for a suc­cess­ful na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process.

Three important flaws in the two pro­cesses of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion launched in late 1980s and in 2010 are pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for putting a ques­tion mark as far as peace prospects in Afghanistan are con­cerned. First, un­like South Africa and North­ern Ire­land, where the very idea of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion had do­mes­tic sup­port and own­er­ship, the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan is quite dif­fer­ent. The Afghan so­ci­ety, in view of its tribal, eth­nic and sec­tar­ian cleav­ages is not amenable to the re­quire­ments of for­give­ness, heal­ing, trust and flex­i­bil­ity which form the core of any rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process.

A so­ci­ety where, re­gres­sion, ven- geance, rigid­ity, sus­pi­cion, vi­o­lence and re­tribu­tive jus­tice shape hu­man be­hav­ior, it is dif­fi­cult to cre­ate space for a rec­on­cil­ia­tory ap­proach. Sec­ond, the pur­suance of a re­jec­tion­ist ap­proach by those who are a ma­jor stake­holder in the Afghan con­flict sit­u­a­tion also makes Karzai’s pol­icy of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion a non-starter. Same was the predica­ment which was faced by Dr. Na­jibul­lah as those who were the main op­po­si­tion par­ties to the con­flict sit­u­a­tion at that time fol­lowed a re­jec­tion­ist ap­proach. Third, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process must have home­grown con­stituency and should not be launched to ap­pease ex­ter­nal pow­ers or se­cure a le­git­i­mate power sta­tus. In both the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­cesses in Afghanistan, the very pur­pose of such type of a pol­icy is to se­cure a safe exit of for­eign forces and keep hold over power but by of­fer­ing slots to re­sis­tance groups.

The ques­tion whether Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai’s pol­icy of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is a non-starter or with the pas­sage of time will gain sup­port from op­po­si­tion forces, the time is ripe for unit­ing the peo­ple of Afghanistan and giv­ing them a break from more than three decades of vi­o­lence and blood­shed. If the war­ring fac­tions in Afghanistan are ready to bury the past and move for­ward on the road to peace, progress and sta­bil­ity, na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion will cer­tainly be­come a part of the Afghan so­ci­ety. Cer­tainly, other stake­hold­ers in the Afghan con­flict be­long­ing to the re­gion and out­side also need to play a pos­i­tive role for trans­form­ing Afghanistan from a con­flict and vi­o­lent rid­den to a peace­ful and sta­ble coun­try. The writer is Pro­fes­sor, Depart­ment of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, Univer­sity of Karachi and cur­rently Vis­it­ing DAAD Pro­fes­sor, Pro­gram on Con­flict Stud­ies and Man­age­ment, Willy Brandt School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, Univer­sity of Er­furt, Ger­many.

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