Inclusive talks

Reports indicate that secret talks are underway between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban. It does seem that Taliban chief Mullah Omar is part of the effort to find a negotiated settlement to the ongoing war in the country. Afghan officials have, however, sought to downplay the seriousness of the talks. While dismissing reports that formal negotiations have begun, they have admitted to ‘intensification of contacts.’ If Mullah Omar has indeed been drawn into the talks process, then an important milestone has been reached in the quest for a negotiated solution to the Afghan conflict. Hitherto, the Taliban chief was reported to be opposed to engaging in talks until the US-led international forces left the country. His involvement in negotiations, if true marks a new flexibility in the Taliban’s approach. This is welcome.

Many countries, including India, are alarmed with the Karzai government’s overtures to the Taliban. However, they must realise that the Taliban, whether we like it or not, is a part of Afghan society and does represent a section of Afghans, however despicable their policies might be. The past nine years of military campaigns by the international forces to defeat the Taliban have failed. Trying to build peace through defeating the Taliban has not worked. Critics of talking to the Taliban have argued that there is no ‘moderate Taliban’; hence there was no point in talking to them. This is an absurd position to take especially when seeking a resolution to a conflict.

It is important that the Afghan government reaches out to all sections, including the Taliban. This is aimed at reconciliation and will entail granting amnesty to Taliban fighters, an issue that has implications for justice. Still, sometimes it is necessary to put in place a peace, even one that is flawed and seems unjust, to begin working towards an inclusive, hopefully more lasting peace. India is understandably concerned about the likely inclusion of the Taliban, given the latter’s links to Pakistan. Delhi will have to work harder on reaching out to the Pashtuns, even wooing the Taliban. Instead of criticising the Taliban’s inclusion, India should stress its support for any solution that is made in Afghanistan, and provides for a government that will bring peace to the Afghan people and the region.

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