There are six months to December, when Germany on the 10th Anniversary of the Bonn Agreement on Afghanistan will host the Bonn Conference 2. We had heard about it for the first time last year in November and thought it will be another conference like the ones in Paris, London and Kabul to, as we say in Dari slang, “get together, sit, talk and walk away”, but since the deadline for withdrawal of international troops is getting close, the US and NATO want to try a political settlement to end the conflict. There are rumors in the diplomatic circles of Kabul that representatives—on foreign ministry level or heads of state—of over 50 countries and the UN will participate in the Bonn Conference 2. But more importantly, the host and other stakeholders are trying to ensure a Taliban representation at the conference. However, it seems like things are going as last-minute preparation for such a decisive event and nothing is clear in the dark clouds ahead.
Some analysts say it was a mistake that the international community and Afghans did not include the Taliban in the first Bonn Conference in 2001. But it is premature to place high hopes about Taliban. Nowadays, all the efforts are on direct talks with insurgents, and there have been contacts between the US and some Taliban representatives from the Quetta Shura. Pakistan is trying to sell that they can persuade the Haqqani Network too for the talks. The US and NATO want to use the Bonn Conference 2 as a platform and decisive event on the negotiations with Taliban and a political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
All these moves in the dark clouds have caused a political scurry among Afghans. Recently there have been several meetings among the bigwigs of opposition forces. Some days ago, a meeting was held in Kabul among all the former Mujahideen leaders and current opposition forces discussing a grand alliance in the wake of coming events and decisive political situation. The meeting in Kabul was followed by a gathering in Mazar. The big shots in these meetings include former vice president Ahmad Zia Masoud, Haji Muhaqiq, Abdullah Abdullah, General Dostum, Amrullah Saleh, Ismail Khan, Ata Muhammad Noor and others. There is no formal unanimity yet, but a grand alliance is in making. The agenda and purpose are to make a strong voice and influence in this dark process.
With the alliance of all opposition forces getting wider and stronger, the legitimacy of Karzai Government’s decisions becomes questionable, as he is dealing it all like intra-tribal affairs. It’s very important for the Afghan Government to make its decisions on unanimous understanding among all factions of the Afghan society. Mr. Karzai comes from Kandahar, where we all know Taliban have more support than him. Even his vice presidents are not confident and fully supporting Karzai’s unilateral moves. In such a situation, once all the opposition forces team up together with a strong political movement and announce their agenda and stance, what will be the mandate of President Karzai on all these affairs?
For the international community, they must be reminded that Taliban have much more serious problems with the Afghans who fought against them for years, rather than the international troops. There is no homework for the coming Bonn Conference. The hosts and international stakeholders must ensure it will not be a gathering with participation of hand-picked Afghans mostly decided by the Karzai Government who has no national political mandate now.
Before the Taliban come to an agreement with the international community, it’s important that they should come to an understanding with Afghans who resisted them for years; otherwise it’s no solution to the conflict. The international troops have already announced withdrawal by 2014. They are not the problem for Taliban; rather the bigger challenges are internal in Afghanistan. The ineffective Peace Council should also bear in mind that it’s not only the international community having problems with Taliban, but more serious problems with Taliban are from inside Afghanistan.
The US, UK and other allies should support big changes for a stable Afghanistan after the transition period, and the Bonn Conference can review the failures and discuss the fault lines. The transition itself is a vague process without any proper strategy with all risks and options considered. A viable solution in Afghanistan is a change in the entire system of territorial administration, and political mechanism.
When the Taliban have more support in the home province of the President than him, how could the international community win hearts and minds of local people?
The solution for a political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan is decentralization of power in a federal parliamentary system where territorial administrative regions should be restructured with more autonomy to the regions. This way, Taliban can try democracy and come to power peacefully in the areas they have larger support, while in parts of country where people think of them as unacceptable stone-age folks, let a liberal and moderate society flourish. The current system has no mechanism and space for the two sides to agree on coexistence.
This could be a practical solution for long-term stability in Afghanistan and the region. The hosts of the Bonn Conference 2 and international stakeholders should make sure all factions of Afghan society, including all political groups, civil society, and the forgotten other-half of us—women participate, not the hand-picked ones or based on decisions of the under-mandated Karzai Government. The agenda of the Conference should have space for Afghans to openly discuss the fault lines of our current system. It’s the desire of majority—all opposition forces—and the internal solution for Taliban to be acceptable by all factions of the society.
All Afghan factions should be asked for the agenda of the Bonn Conference 2 and it should not be an event only dedicated to ensuring a table for the Taliban at the conference.