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Oped: Daily Times, Pakistan March 6, 2010

VIEW: We do not learn from history —Wazhma Frogh

Women’s groups, Afghan civil society organisations and activists have regularly raised alarm because they are concerned that the cooption of the Taliban is likely to amount to a loss of the achievements made over the past nine years

Could we turn the clock back in Afghanistan and travel through time? If so, then the Bonn Agreement of 2001 would be the right time and place to present the Taliban reintegration plan introduced at the recent London conference on Afghanistan. This is because the war was almost over back in late 2001, and a large number of Taliban members were eager for a new life in a new Afghanistan. But the government’s failures since then have made the people who had given up violence rejoin militant groups, turning militancy into a full-fledged insurgency that is not being tackled by almost 100,000 of international troops and a similar number of Afghan Police and the Afghan National Army.

The London Conference on Afghanistan held on January 28 marked another page in the country’s history. It presented a reintegration plan for those Taliban who are ready to renounce violence and be brought back into the ‘political process’ as declared by President Karzai. The plan includes providing financial ‘incentives’ to those leaders and low-ranking fighters who have joined the militants for economic gains rather than ideological reasons. This ‘buy out’ plan is guised as a political settlement or deal. But the plan is likely to backfire and intensify the crisis.

Women’s groups, Afghan civil society organisations and activists have regularly raised alarm at the prospect of such plans because they are concerned that the cooption of the Taliban is likely to amount to a loss of the achievements made over the past nine years. The preservation of these achievements is important no matter how nominal they might appear to the rest of the world. This is because no peace can ever be brought without justice. But the Afghans lost their chance for justice when the Afghan parliament passed an amnesty law in the first year of its establishment, providing immunity from prosecution to all the parties involved in war crimes of the last 30 years. And right after nine years, another plan to give amnesty to militants and insurgents is on the table in the name of reintegration.

Justice is not only about prosecution but also a chance for the people to remember victims, condemn the injustices of the past and so create ways to prevent such conflicts in future. Therefore, this plan needs to assure us all that there are specific red lines to any negotiations and peace deals.

Civil society groups and activists who are critical of the reintegration plan are now being regarded as representing an anti-peace front. The accusation has no ground because such critics desire justice, which is at the core of any peace process. Their scepticism about the peace offer to the Taliban reflects the views of a majority of Afghans, even including some of the architects of this plan who themselves have doubts about the plan’s success. The plan’s most likely outcome is not peace but the militants’ takeover of the presidential palace in Kabul.

The price that Afghan women have been paying, and are still paying, for this conflict has never been addressed properly. The Afghan women are rightly feeling resentful of this plan, which rewards those who are causing trouble and ignores those who have suffered as a result of Taliban violence. An Afghan woman in a consultation process said recently, “We are not a threat to anyone, so why should they care about us? Do they want us women to hold arms and start a rebellion so as to be taken seriously?” Maybe, that is the reason we have women also joining militant groups.

I do not think anyone in Afghanistan, or among its international allies, opposes the principles of dialogue and reconciliation. We Afghans are tired of the ongoing violence, but the remedy is not what is being proposed. While we have failed to carry out the much simpler tasks of need-based service provision, why are we attempting the most difficult one? If the government and its allies believe that one of the reasons that the common people (men) join the militants is for economic gains, then why do they not strengthen the government’s responsiveness to people’s needs? For how much longer are we going to continue reintegrating militants into politics while the same politics make hundreds of young Afghans desperate and hence ready to join hands with militants? If we are to reward the ones that renounce violence, what will be the reward and incentive for the rest of the provinces in the country that did not join militants nor grew poppy in the past years? In simple words, we need a strong government that can provide jobs and economic opportunities for all Afghans, not only those who are affiliated with militants.

But let us assume that the plan makes sense and should be implemented. But are we, in practice, capable of implementing the plan? If the government’s own vehicles are hijacked by militants and used against the civilian population, as happened during January 1, 2010, Kabul bombing, how will the same government be able to attract the right beneficiaries for the peace package amidst the current atmosphere of uncertainty and violence?

Reconciliation and conflict resolution are the right solutions for the Afghan dilemma, but only when the common Afghan who sells potatoes on the street has a stake in this government and trusts it. Then no one would need to pay him to root out militants from his community, but he himself would fight for his nation, as the Afghans did in the past.

So the question is, how will the common Afghan start trusting the government? The answer is simple. We need a state capable of providing basic services in an accountable and transparent manner. A state whose cabinet members will be voted in by parliament because of their qualification and commitment, rather than the weight of the envelops filled with dollars left on the seats of MPs. A state that will not reintroduce its own previously sacked ministers just to fill the position and the rulers’ pockets.

Let us not forget that this reintegration plan will take place simultaneously with airstrikes and drone attacks. While the war is raging with the 39,000 troops surge, we want to reintegrate the ones we are fighting, while we do not know whom are we fighting in essence.

Today we have hundreds of families that fled Helmand after the Marjah operation and now live in desperate conditions in displaced persons’ camps in Kabul. They have no food and nothing to shelter them from the snow.

If, after nine years, we have realised that this war has another alternative, then why are mud-built homes still being bombed into ashes every day?

Wazhma Frogh is an Afghan civil society activist currently a postgraduate fellow at Warwick University, United Kingdom


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