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1. The Taliban Language:
So far, the Taliban have yet to recognize the Afghan government as the legitimate state rulers and have insisted that they would enter negotiations with President Ghani’s team of negotiators not as a government but as a party to the Afghan conflict. Such a stance by the Taliban ridicules all the principles of democracy and governance, dishonors the sacrifices of Afghans and other values in which the Afghans and the international community have invested in. The Taliban’s audacity has reached to such an extent that they question the composition of President Ghani’s negotiating body and rejected negotiations with the Kabul team time and again.
Kabul is to blame, too, because once it provided a 250-member list as if the peace process was an Afghan wedding; has appointed individuals who, even the Taliban have maintained, lacked the competence and insight to see through such a massive national-scale program. In the last three days, Shah Hussain Mortazawi, the senior advisor to President Ghani, and the media have presented two separate lists of negotiators to the public, which is indicative of a lack of coordination, indecision and political frustration.
All of these Taliban reactions imply that they are a terrorist group and do not know the language of negotiation, reconciliation, compromise and peace. The efforts of the government to restore peace with the Taliban are seen as the former’s failure and the latter’s victory. The Afghanistan government must speak the language of whipping, beatings and bullets that they understand very well so that the Taliban lay down their weapons and hurriedly beg the government for clemency and reintegration. The difference between yesterday’s Taliban and today’s Taliban is that for yesterday’s Taliban, everyone was infidel, atheist and must-be-killed, but today only non-Taliban Afghans are bound to die under their sword.
The release of sworn-in Taliban prisoners before the settlement on the Intra-Afghan peace agreement and the nationwide ceasefire is a political stupidity. Take Dr. Najibullah’s presidency as an example. It did not work by then, nor will it work on this occasion. Worse, it may even result in the toppling of major cities and even President Ghani’s already disputed the second term. The unconditional and hurried release of the prisoners is a slap to the Afghan armed forces who captured the POW’s at the cost of their lives and limbs. While the Taliban are doing time in a hostel like detention facilities of the Afghan government, the Taliban brutally kill the Afghan armed forces and even civilians or treat them worse than we treat lunatic predatory animals. No guarantees can prevent the Taliban from fighting Afghans again. Even if they take an oath on Qur’an, they will run to the battlefield once they hear the call from their masters.
2. “Peace is Virtuous”
Peace is the best and only means to end disunity, discord and conflict, but not all peace treaties have resulted in peace or benefited nations. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has drunk the poison in the 90’s. If the Afghanistan government is begging the Taliban to make peace with them, they should at least work on a proper team to see the initiative through. The Taliban have said they would not negotiate with any group that does not have the executive authority. The qualifications of the current negotiation delegation indicate that they will have no authority to exercise but act as a messenger, which is a deal-breaker for the Taliban.
Putting the Taliban’s argument aside and franking speaking, the delegation lacks the wisdom, competence, experience, and maturity for peace in addition to failing to properly represent the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks let alone other minorities. The overwhelming majority is extremely inexperienced for this vital national program. You have to google a number of people or find out about their whereabouts by checking their last names. Some of the delegates are corrupt or failed civil servants of the President Karzai regime. Others lack the courage to negotiate with the Taliban who “have defeated America in Afghanistan”. Yes, Sir! Unfortunately, the Taliban see the agreement with the U.S. as the defeat of the U.S. in Afghanistan. A recent audio clip of the conversation between two Taliban commanders endorse and validate the viral claim.
3. The Inclusion Criteria:
As stated before, we have two lists of delegates to negotiate a peace agreement with the Taliban. Some media outlets have amalgamated the two lists and come up with their own list. It is not clear which list is accurate but one judgment applies to both/all: merit has been compromised.
If meritocracy was criteria of inclusion in the delegation, the majority of the incumbents would not qualify. I assume that Masoom Stanikzai has been appointed as the head of the delegation because of his affinity and common last name with Sher Mohammad Abbas Stankzai. Fatima Gilani is the wife of Sayed Ishaq Gailani. Her husband boldly went to Pakistan and accused Afghanistan of working with India against Pakistan in the Afghan soil. The punishment for such a shameful act is hanging in other countries because national treason cannot be forgiven. However, since we are talking about Afghanistan, nothing happens to such folks. Besides, Afghans have to have selective political amnesia. They have to forget everything and move on. Fawzia Kufi was the former member of the Afghan National Assembly. She was accused of drug trafficking. Her brother used to transport drugs using Kofi’s office vehicles. The brother was apparently caught several times and Kofi came to his rescue and release each and every time. It is extremely hard to fathom what qualifications and characteristics of these two women make them worthy of leading a national process and what is the rationale behind their inclusion.
The inclusion of Zarar Ahmad Moqbel and Karim Amin/Ghairat Bahir in this list is utterly preposterous because Moqbel was one of President Karzai’s most notorious appointees. Alongside being clueless and notorious for corruption, during his tenure as the Minister of Interior, carjacking had reached the point where President Karzai failed to find a safe corner for his convoy. Amin/Bahir represents Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who still appears in the Afghan media and says, “If we the government does not give us so and so, we will rise again and climb to the mountains to stage a war.” What logic does he bring to the negotiating table when Amin/Bahir keeps saying “no land has been allocated to our supporters” or “our mujahideen have not been recruited to the ANA ranks”. What if a Talib asks him why he is inviting them to a peace process when he clearly holds grudges against the government and his boss does not regard the government legitimate and threatens to move back to Kunar caves again. Even in the sports world, there is a rule that a player must spend at least a few years in retirement in order to be a coach or referee. It is a pity that the political foundation of the Afghan people is weaker than that of a sports association.
4. What Qualifications and Inclusion Criteria Should the Negotiation Delegation Have?
To be on the winning side of a negotiation, both parties attempt to designate individuals who specialize in negotiation (mediation and arbitration), have a good reputation, are eloquent, and most importantly are determined to resolve the matter at hand or the dispute. Both parties begin by studying the strengths, weaknesses, and threats of each side. As an Afghan citizen, I want to focus on the Taliban’s strengths, weaknesses and threats.
The Taliban Strengths:
i. Textual and Literal Interpretation of Islam:
The Taliban exploit the lack of knowledge of Islam by Afghans and other Muslims involved in the Afghan war and the brutal killing of Afghans, leading them to fulfill their goals.
ii. Existence of foreign forces, especially the US in Afghanistan, which they call occupation:
The Taliban claim that because foreigners occupied the homeland, jihad is permissible and if one does not wage a holy war against occupiers to free the homeland/Muslim land, how on earth will they face God and His messenger in the day of judgment? Of course, the Taliban are well-versed in explaining the benefits of jihad in the case of martyrdom or conquer, which makes it (even more) appealing.
In one instance, the Taliban drew and painted the life of a martyr in paradise on the walls of a training center in the frontier areas of Pakistan. The drawings and paintings depicted a sea with a beautiful backdrop in which a martyr was swimming. In another training center, a woman recruit would blindfold the teenagers that were being trained for suicide attacks and feel them up. After they would get extremely aroused, the woman would reach their ears and tell them to experience the rest of the act in paradise after conducting the suicide attack successfully.
iii. The existence of social, administrative, and political corruption and lack of transparency and accountability in the current regime that has led to poverty, poor security and oppression:
In any democracy, people enjoy a set of freedom that may be nonexistent in their native culture or may not conform to their religious beliefs. Some people abuse freedom in some cultures. Unfortunately, some urban dwellers have caused moral corruption at the social, governmental, and political levels. Such unprecedented freedom cannot be prevented by the current government for a variety of reasons, and the Taliban have been using this vacuum as a pretext. It is noteworthy that even the Taliban’s Emir, Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund, was not spared of such corruption as his special envoy, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, could not practice abstinence or remain sober during the emirate ruling in Afghanistan.
There is no doubt that our government is neither accountable nor transparent. Afghanistan’s judicial system is one of the most corrupt branches of the current system. In remote areas, the irresponsible armed groups and bullies rule. No President Ghani or CEO Abdullah has a say in the state of affairs. If someone appeals to the government, they are not heard for years. On the contrary, it can lead to their brutal killing. If local anecdotes are to be believed, the general public has enjoyed positive and swift outcome upon appealing to the local Taliban rather than seeking justice behind the closed doors and deaf ears of the local government.
iv. Rules of Engagement:
Because the Taliban are a terrorist and insurgent group, they do not adhere to any religious teachings, resolutions, or conventions when it comes to engaging in conflict. They first engage in guerrilla warfare or launch a suicide attack, and then wait to see how many foreigners (infidels) and how many Afghans (less Muslim than Taliban) are killed. If the attack kills too many children, women and old people, which is banned in Islam or any other governing law on the face of the earth, they maintain oblivion and disown the attack. However, if the number of civilian casualties is low, their spokesmen crawl from under the rocks everywhere and take responsibility for the attack even by exaggerating the number of Afghan armed forces’ deaths.
Because the indiscriminate killing of Afghans – civilians or military men and women – is part of their modus operandi or rule of engagement (or lack thereof), the martyrdom of a large number of civilians in almost all terrorist incidents is inevitable. Such a situation casts an unprecedented fear and anxiety on people’s minds and hearts. It shakes the confidence of the general public about their present and future and in the armed forces. Some Afghans have left the country while those who haven’t but can are unhesitant, which leads to the brain drain and will probably result in the loss of a nation. For the time being, the overwhelming majority of Afghans believe that the government cannot defeat the Taliban, so it is better that they make peace with them. Even people like Hekmatyar, who came to live in a palace from Kunar caves under the blessings and goodwill of the current government, maintains the current government is illegitimate because he wants to be in the good books of the Taliban upon the latter’s return.
Weaknesses of the Taliban:
i. Financial and War Fatigue:
The Taliban masters are tired of funding the unwinnable war while the warriors are tired of fighting. If the war does not end, we may see a collapse in the Taliban ranks. The war has hit a deadlock for the involved parties. Now, with the U.S. being almost out of the picture, The Taliban will find it an uphill struggle to hire new recruits amongst Afghans and maintain morale of their comrades and the spirit of the war intact.
ii. Disruptors, not Rulers:
The Taliban have been extremely successful in disrupting the public order and creating chaos, but have failed to relive their 90’s successes or overthrow the current regime. While there is no doubt that they have not allowed the Afghan government to take a sigh of relief for a single day, they themselves have not rested peacefully either. Such failures have convinced the Taliban masters that they cannot win the war.
iii. Bad Reputation:
Although the ceasefire agreement between the U.S. government and the Taliban has given the latter an exalted status, which they may use as leverage to gain international political recognition in the near or remote future, the Taliban still have a contemptible and dreadful image inside and outside Afghanistan. Considering that they have fought the armies of more than 40 countries and killed some of them, cleaning such an image in a short span of time, or at all, is highly unlikely.
iv. Nonexistent Foreign Policy and Feeble Diplomacy:
The nonexistence or weakness of the Taliban’s foreign policy and diplomacy became evident in the latter half of the 90’s when they abdicated Rabbani’s government and made them flee to the north. Only countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Emirate politically. The rest of the world just turned their backs on them. Even now diplomacy, foreign policy, international law, UN resolutions, international conventions, strategy, strategic friend and foe, national interests, protocol and other key elements of foreign affairs are almost utterly unfamiliar territory for the group. With the emergence of ISIS and coronavirus, the likelihood of any special interest in the Taliban is pretty slim.
Now, by studying the strengths and weaknesses and threats of the Taliban, the Afghan government needs to determine which qualities the negotiation delegation should possess.
#1. Expert in Islam:
The Kabul delegation should be led by someone who is extremely well-versed in Islam because the other party members are mostly Mullahs and their first language is the teachings of Islam that they use to justify their version of jihad. He has to be an eloquent person who is at least deemed as a religious scholar by the Taliban. Only then, the Taliban will listen to him, argue and definitely reach a conclusion. The expert should reject the interpretation of any verses and hadiths that the Taliban use in their favor, and share their original meaning and use. If the Taliban are defeated in the knowledge of Islam and given proof of wrongdoings, they will be left with no foundation to wage their so-called “holy war”.
It would have been ideal to have an Afghan woman delegate with the above qualities and characteristics, too, because the government would have had an upper hand and win. In my opinion, it wouldn’t matter if such a famous woman is a citizen of another Islamic state and is invited by the Afghan government as an expert or even a consultant.
It is unfortunate that the Afghan government failed to invest in religious scholars, especially women, over a period of 19 years. Otherwise, we would not have had such a problem. On another note, the Afghan government failed to mobilize the Islamic world against the Taliban to ban their war. Such mobilization came in late when President Ghani took the office and did not yield the desired results even when achieved as the Taliban still continue to massacre Afghans.
Two individuals who can perform such a task are Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf and Qazi Mohammad Amin Weqad.
#2. Expert in the Afghan War:
Secondly, the Kabul delegation needs a war expert. This person must communicate to the Taliban how the government can destroy their fighters if they do not put an end to the war and reconciliation. A demo of the Afghan armed forces’ power against their fighters on the ground during the negotiating process will undermine the Taliban’s morale. The best person to carry out such work is an individual with General Raziq’s caliber.
#3. Expert in Intelligence Affairs:
Thirdly, the Kabul delegation needs an expert in intelligence. This person should disclose all Taliban secrets, such as rape of children until they agree to carry out suicide missions; the Taliban’s links to Pakistan, Iran and other individuals and intelligence secrets that defame the group. The Taliban delegation needs to understand how such well-documented secrets can defame them internationally and among their own ranks.
One demonstration of the Afghan intelligence prowess is the elimination of one of the leading Taliban commanders or its Pakistani or Iranian handler during the talks.
#4. Expert in International Relations and Foreign Policy:
Fourthly, the Kabul delegation needs an expert in international relations and foreign policy. The expert should communicate to the Taliban how the group is lagging behind the world, and how it is not possible to advance the affairs of a country, especially the dream of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan despite getting the green light from Dr. Abdullah. Moreover, the expert should tell the Taliban that the absence of the current Afghan regime will take the country back to 2001. Since neither the United States nor the international community has the patience and/or money to invest in the Taliban’s capacity and their regime, it would be better for the Taliban to integrate into the Afghan community and learn from the average Afghans rather than dream of leading the country. To achieve such a goal, the Afghanistan government needs an expert on Zalmai Khalilzad’s stature.
If the aforementioned professionals do their job properly, there is no need for gender representation as the Taliban have realized and hopefully learned from their past mistakes. However, since women’s rights is a hot topic in Afghanistan and the Taliban have never hesitated to abuse women’s rights when they were in power or as an armed opposition group, it is advisable that a gender expert or women’s rights advocate sit around the negotiation table.
The expert should ensure to protect the rights of women enshrined in the Constitution and other national and international laws. It is very important that the expert is well-versed in religious matters and speak out and argue for the protection of women’s rights in the light of Islam because the Taliban do not understand international laws, conventions and resolutions and want to spend their time debating matters in the light of the Islamic teaching. The best individual apt for this task is Shahla Farid or Zainab Movahed.
#6. Reintegration Specialty:
In addition to all the experts, the Afghan government also needs to include a reintegration expert as the Taliban’s return under the authority of the government needs a road map.
a. First of all, all the ex-Taliban fighters must be disarmed. The only forces that can carry weapons are the Afghan armed forces, who are accountable.
b. The immediate reintegration of the ex-Taliban in the central government or in the areas where they fought will not be extremely provocative and perilous. Metal and iron that burn in the fire for five years, need at least one year to turn cold after being put out of the fire. Of course, this theory applies to the ex-Taliban also because their welfare, lives and property by then is a crucial responsibility of the Afghan government, who cannot allow opportunists and oppressors to take revenge and/or fulfill their malicious and hostile goals.
d. Over the course of a year, the government must work to build the ex-Taliban’s capacity in the traits that latter deems befitting. If they want to learn a profession or go to school and university, they should not miss out. The government should extend cash support to the ex-Taliban so that they do not find a reason to return to war. However, the reintegration of the ex-Taliban into the ranks of the security forces for the next five to ten years is unadvisable on principle grounds. It is worth noting that the Afghan government must disband militias and work hard to mature its security forces. An expert in President Ghani’s caliber is ideal for this task.
In conclusion, we need 6 experts, not 20 or 21 ethnic and gender representatives to negation a proper peace deal on our behalf. If we negotiate from a position of strength, we can achieve lasting peace by utilizing the available opportunities. However, let’s keep reminding ourselves that peace can never be achieved from a weak(ness) standpoint. Even if a peace agreement is signed, it will not be lasting and may be a repetition of the peace agreement of the Mujahideen in the 90’s.