Monday, January 03, 2011

The Way Out of Afghanistan by Ahmed Rashid | The New York Review of Books

The Way Out of Afghanistan by Ahmed Rashid | The New York Review of Books:... "Here is a possible step-by-step approach, involving all the players, that is intended to build trust and confidence in the region so that ultimately negotiations with the Taliban can take place.

1. NATO, the Afghan government, and Pakistan free most Afghan Taliban prisoners under their jurisdiction and seek to accommodate them safely in Afghanistan or allow them to seek refuge in third countries. NATO guarantees freedom of movement for Taliban mediators opening an office in a friendly third country.

2. Iran enters into negotiations with the United Nations and European countries to end its safe haven for Afghan Taliban and allow them to return home or seek refuge in third countries. None of these actions includes amnesty or safe passage for al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups.

3. The Taliban respond with confidence-building measures of their own such as publicly dissociating themselves from al-Qaeda, ordering an end to targeted killings of Afghan administrators and aid workers, and an end to suicide bombings and burning schools and government buildings.

4. The US, NATO, and the UN declare their willingness to negotiate directly with the Taliban when the Taliban publicly request it, although they insist that the dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban remain the main avenue for negotiating a peace deal.

5. A new UN Security Council resolution calls for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban to bring the war to an end. The UN resolution mandates its special representative in Kabul to help those negotiations and to start a dialogue between Afghanistan’s neighboring states to reduce their mutual antagonisms and interference; the resolution also calls for Afghan Taliban leaders who do not have ties to al-Qaeda to be struck off the list of terrorism suspects.

6. India and Pakistan enter into secret talks between their intelligence agencies in order to make their presence in Afghanistan more transparent to the other and end their rivalries. Later the two governments come to agreements that would allow each one to tolerate the other’s embassies, consulates, rebuilding activities, and trade interests in Afghanistan. Both pledge not to seek a military presence in Afghanistan or to use Afghan soil to undermine the other.

7. Central to any plan would be a deal with the separatist insurgents in the Pakistani province of Balochistan who make use of territory in Afghanistan to carry out their attacks on Pakistan. To address the problem, Pakistan issues a general amnesty for all insurgent Baloch separatist groups and dissidents and announces its intentions to discuss a new peace formula with all Baloch separatist groups to end the current insurgency. The army and ISI free all Baloch prisoners they are holding including the hundreds of “disappeared” prisoners.

8. The Afghan government makes a commitment to return all Baloch separatist leaders on its soil once agreement is reached on a political deal in Balochistan and safe passage for Baloch leaders to return home is guaranteed by the Pakistan army and an international agency such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

9. Pakistan issues a timetable and deadline of between six to twelve months for all Afghan Taliban leaders and their families who want to do so to leave Pakistan and return to Afghanistan. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the UN would jointly help those Taliban not wishing to return home and not on any terrorism list to seek political asylum in third countries. Simultaneously Pakistan would undertake military action in North Waziristan in an effort to destroy remnants of al-Qaeda and Afghan and Pakistani Taliban who may remain and try to sabotage any peace process. Even if such action were not fully successful, the aim would be to limit their capacity to sponsor insurgency.

10. The Afghan government works to build a national consensus inside the country among all ethnic groups, civil society, and the tribes before entering into formal negotiations with the Taliban. Negotiations also start between the US and the Taliban. The US agrees to sharply restrict killing of Taliban leaders by drones and other means.

Many questions hover over such a plan. It is a tragic loss that Richard Holbrooke, who would have been a strong leader in advancing such steps, died before they could be pursued. The former Taliban officials I talked to seemed open to a sequence of this kind. Whether their comrades in Pakistan can be persuaded to make a series of compromises and to estrange themselves from al-Qaeda is far from clear. But if after ten years the war is to be ended and the “end state” is to be actually achieved, then some such series of steps will be needed.

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