KABUL — The West wants to pull out of Afghanistan “with or without a settlement” and attempts to negotiate with the Taliban are unlikely to lead to lasting peace, a report by a respected think-tank said Monday.
In a hard-hitting document the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) condemned “desperate and dangerous moves” by Hamid Karzai’s government to bring Taliban, the allied Haqqani Network and other insurgents to the negotiating table.
If a deal appeared to give the Taliban preferential treatment it was “likely to spark a significant backlash from the Northern Alliance, Hezb-i Islami and other major factions”, it said.
Without a sustainable settlement, after international forces pull out “all indicators point to a fragile political order that could rapidly disintegrate into a more virulent civil war”, it said.
Afghanistan has seen several periods of vicious conflict in its recent history, with the mujahedin resistance against Soviet troops followed by civil war among the various groups.
The hardline Taliban regime of 1996-2001 never controlled the whole of the country, and since it was deposed it has been waging an insurgency of its own against Karzai’s government and the Western forces backing it.
“The international community’s most urgent priority is to exit Afghanistan with or without a settlement,” the ICG said.
“The negotiating agenda has been dominated by Washington?s desire to obtain a decent interval between the planned US troop drawdown and the possibility of another bloody chapter in the conflict.”
But the document warned: “No matter how much the US and its NATO allies want to leave Afghanistan, it is unlikely that a Washington-brokered power-sharing agreement will hold long enough to ensure that the achievements of the last decade are not reversed.”
It said the process should instead be mediated by the United Nations.
Progress towards negotiations in Afghanistan has been long, slow and complicated, with no sign of a deal being struck, or even substantive talks.
Fake envoys have at times hoaxed Kabul, and a purported Taliban representative last year killed Karzai’s top peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani and himself with a bomb hidden in his turban.
Kabul has said several times that it is in negotiations with the Taliban, who insisted in turn that they were only prepared to talk to the Americans, who say the process should be Afghan-led.
In January the Taliban announced they would open an office in Qatar to facilitate talks, but demanded prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay should be transferred to the Gulf country.
They said they were pulling out of the process after a US soldier killed 17 Afghan civilians in Kandahar province earlier this month.
Gavin Sundwall, spokesman for the US embassy in Kabul, refuted the ICG report’s findings, saying they was based on “inaccurate information and false perceptions” and Washington had a “long-term commitment to Afghanistan”.
“Afghanistan and other countries in the region agree that the best way to achieve a stable, peaceful Afghanistan is to achieve some kind of inclusive political settlement,” he said.
Such a deal would have to see the Taliban “completely break” from Al-Qaeda, end violence, and accept the Afghan constitution and its protection of minority and women’s rights, he added.
“This is an Afghan process, and the United States will do what we can to help in that process,” he said.
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Photo AFP/File, Patrick Baz