Negotiating with the Taliban: Six Critical Conditions that Must Be Met to Avoid Another “Peace to End All Peace”
January 17, 2012
There is no doubt that successful peace talks would be the best possible outcome of the Afghan conflict for everyone involved. History is not, however, filled with best possible outcomes. Far too often, the parties involved in peace talks continue to pursue their own interests in any way they can and peace talks become little more than a cover for prolonged struggled or become a weapon in the hands of the most skilled side.
Even seemingly successful peace talks – such as those in Cambodia, Nepal, and Vietnam – are demonstrations that diplomacy often becomes an extension of war by other means. In fact, former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, has warned that Afghan mujahedeen were involved in peace negotiations through the 1980s—but still ended up overthrowing the pro-Soviet Najibullah regime in 1992.
This is not a case against talking to the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan. The Afghans have now lived through over 30 years of war and crisis and they need peace badly. There are limits to how long the US and its allies will stay, the Pakistani and Afghan governments both present challenges to a successful transition, and there are some indications that the Taliban and some other insurgent groups are “tired,” have suffered serious losses, and are willing to compromise. No one is going to get all of what they want out of this war, and some form of viable peace may be possible.
There is a strong case for laying the groundwork that might help produce a real peace if one is possible, and for setting conditions that limit Taliban and other insurgent capability to exploit such talks. This war cannot be won by military means alone, but it can also be lost through the wrong kind of negotiations or agreement.
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