Five months ago when the first preparatory meeting for Bonn II was held in Kabul under the auspicious of International Contact Group, I wrote on this page that there were no expectations of a breakthrough in the peace and reconciliation process. It was what organizers of the conference initially aimed all about to achieve on the 10th anniversary of the Bonn Conference of 2001 that established the Transitional Authority in Afghanistan and the set up later.
There was one big mistake at the time—absence of the Taliban on the table. The international community and the Karzai Administration tried to undo this mistake after 10 years again in Bonn, but despite all-out efforts, they could not make the least of progress on it.
Rather serious blunders were made, once again. For instance, the Afghan delegation was a Government delegation, completely bypassing the political opposition forces—none from the three strong opposition blocks Hope & Change, National Front and Right & Justice Party were invited.
They invited former Taliban figures such as Mutawakel and Hakim Mujahid for the sideline meetings. Whom the international community want to satisfy with such moves? Their media? These former Taliban are now Government’s Taliban of name. They no more represent or have any contact with the insurgency’s leadership based in Quetta and Karachi. It’s waste of time to engage with them. Militants say they will not talk to and through the Afghan Government, but Karzai Administration has been ineffectively trying with the mantra of “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned” peace process. This was even added as primary principle for peace talks and reconciliation process in the final communiqué of the Bonn Conference.
Seeing the result of three years of efforts so far, it is unlikely that the Afghan Government will succeed in the reconciliation process prior to NATO withdrawal in 2014. They are yet confused what to call it, “peace talks”, “reconciliation” or “political settlement”?
Since his second term in Arg, President Karzai—whose administration faces serious lack of political mandate and credibility compared to the political popularity after the first Bonn Conference in 2001—has made all-out efforts in this confused process of peacemaking with insurgents under different official programs of reconciliation and reintegration.
We have witnessed that so far nothing has come out of the efforts of Karzai Administration other than a shameful incident when a Taliban imposter and shopkeeper from Quetta deceived the entire intelligence apparatus of the Government taking handsome amount of money back to Quetta. The second blow was recently when a suicide bomber assassinated Ustad Rabbani . President Karzai has only read Fatihas for the martyred Ustad Rabbani on each official political occasions, no initial progress is made in the investigation. The delegation, who were denied visas for Pakistan, could finally go to Islamabad after Turkey persuaded Pakistan to cooperate on this in the Istanbul Summit.
After the tragic assassination of Professor Rabbani, President Karzai announced to halt the “process of talks” with the Taliban. Karzai admitted for the first time that all his efforts had failed and that Taliban had no address. But he changed mind quickly, without any clear vision of direction. The Traditional Loya Jirga of his hand-picked “elders” was staged and asked for “advice” on talks with the Taliban.
The Government has not the capacity and political mandate to be able to succeed in the peace process. The last three years have been ultimate failure. But unfortunately the international community has decided to ignore this. The Bonn Conference should have discussed a UN-led peace process involving regional countries and international stake holders which could be effective, transparent and dynamic.
The Bonn communiqué included nothing significant to undo the mistakes of last 10 years. It once again reiterated the uncertain assurances of the international community to continue supporting Afghanistan from a period of Transition to Transformation Decade of 2015-2025, but not discussed the reasons of slow progress and failure in many areas.
There is an increasing perception in the western media that the military operations have been complete failure. Analysts such as Ahmed Rashid advocate for talks. That has been what the Karzai Administration has desperately tried to do in the last three years, but failed.
The political system and civilian government is a measuring parallel for the success of military operations in Afghanistan. The Administration in Kabul has not only disappointed Afghans, but failed the entire efforts of the international community. The root cause is in the system which was imposed by the international community in Afghanistan focusing on individuals rather than institutions. The Bonn communiqué mentioned the following;
Afghanistan reaffirms that the future of its political system will continue to reflect its pluralistic society and remain firmly founded on the Afghan Constitution.
It was enforced by President Karzai in retaliation to the increasing demand for change in the system. A strongly centralized system of Government has been against the nature of Afghanistan’s political and social order.
During the last 70-80 unstable years of Afghanistan’s history, all regimes and ideologies that tried to impose a highly centralized system, contributed to instability. For turning the international efforts into quantum success before the withdrawal, it is important to bring fundamental changes in the whole system in Afghanistan.
Even analysts like Ahmed Rashid have started realizing this. In his latest article on the Financial Times mentioning the increasing demands for change in the system from a presidential to parliamentary form of government, he says, “these demands come from important segments of all ethnic groups and need to be addressed by the government and the foreign powers before they leave. Failure to do so could lead to civil war.”
I believe unless there are radical changes in our constitution before the international community leaves, Afghanistan will not be on path of stability. We need rapid institutional decentralization of power and change of system from highly centralized presidential to a federal parliamentary government. We need reforms in electoral system, judicial sector and much more. This could be the only recipe for the Taliban peace process, reconciliation or political settlement whatever you name.