Risky venture

A major change in the strategy of Afghanistan and the international community to end the war in the war-torn country is unfolding. Plans are afoot to engage sections of the Taliban in talks. Donor countries participating in a key conference in London have agreed to finance a $140 million peace and reintegration fund to draw Taliban fighters into the mainstream, through the promise of jobs and other incentives and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called on disenchanted citizens, who are not part of the al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks, to renounce violence and join the peace process.

Hitherto, security forces deployed in Afghanistan have treated Taliban and al-Qaeda similarly, targeting both in their military operations. Besides, Taliban, whether moderate or militant, were viewed as one and the same. In fact, it was often said that moderate Taliban was an oxymoron. That perception seems to be changing with Karzai and the international community reaching out to moderate Taliban. To some, including India the shift is worrying. If successful, the talks could result in a power sharing arrangement that includes Taliban moderates. Will that be the first step towards the return of the Taliban to power in Kabul? Will it mean resurgence in Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan? Will it be a return to the situation that existed in the late 1990s, where Afghanistan had become a haven for terror groups that targeted India? There is concern in India that the shift in strategy is aimed at providing international forces in Afghanistan a face-saving exit route ie once an agreement is reached troops can quickly pull out of the Afghan quagmire.
The concerns India is raising are valid. Still if the war in Afghanistan should end, military operations and reconstruction alone will not achieve that. Reconciliation is needed for sustainable peace. And that requires reaching out to the Taliban and bringing them into mainstream politics. As Taliban fighters begin turning their back on the gun, militancy will weaken. The strategy is one that is fraught with risks. But in a situation where there are few options, taking this risk might not be such a bad idea. However, it is important that the international community moves cautiously. Key decisions must be taken only after consultation with regional powers that have a better understanding of the Taliban.

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