THE ROAD THROUGH QATAR, A DEAD END?
Opportunities Promoting and Hurdles Preventing a Political Solution in Afghanistan that Includes the Taliban
Thomas Ruttig, Graduated from Humboldt University Berlin (diploma in Afghan studies), currently (since 2009) a co-director and senior analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank based in Kabul and Berlin (Oranienburg, Germany)
While a military solution in Afghanistan has failed, the search for a political solution that includes the insurgent Taliban movement has not yielded any significant results, despite initial U.S.-Taliban contacts in Qatar in 2011 and 2012 originally facilitated by Germany. All contacts with the Taliban so far have been preliminary and exploratory and have not yet reached the “negotiations” stage. No substantial progress has been made so far in 2013 either. There are several other obstacles hindering the start of constructive negotiations, mainly: the U.S. approach that often sidelines the Afghan government, the Taliban’s refusal to talk to the Afghan government and the Afghan government’s lack of a clear strategy for such negotiations, as well as the general mistrust between the potential parties in the negotiations and the failure of all sides to recognize that talks with the Taliban constitute only one element of a political solution. After a period of extremely strained relations with Pakistan, the Afghan government is hoping for Pakistan’s support to open a direct channel to the Taliban leadership, a demand formulated before President Karzai’s August 2013 visit to Pakistan.
The current attempts of the Afghan and Pakistani governments to relocate, and in fact dismantle, the Taliban liaison office have, however, created an additional hurdle that will make substantial negotiations even less likely in the short term. The Taliban have already made it known that they do not want Pakistan and Saudi Arabia—both countries suggested by Kabul as a possible new location for the Taliban liaison office—to play a central role. A genuine political solution requires inclusiveness. As a first prerequisite to achieve this, the well-founded reservations of large sectors of Afghan civil society, including the organized women’s movement, many young Afghans, and much of the political opposition against any talks with the Taliban and their future role in Afghan politics need to be taken seriously. Their most valid concern is that their own government and its international allies, who have already set the date for the “handover” and withdrawal from Afghanistan, might go for a quick political power-sharing deal between the Karzai government and the Taliban, thereby adding just one more armed faction to the conflict and not addressing the root causes of the conflicts in Afghanistan, of which insurgency is only one.
Keywords: Afghanistan, Pakistan, U.S., Qatar, Germany, Taliban, Karzai, negotiations, inclusiveness.