Include Taliban in talks, says report

by
18 November 2010

by Ed Thornton

THE British Government and other countries in the NATO alliance should engage in peace talks with all parties in the Afghan conflict — including the Taliban — a report, Piecemeal or Peace Deal?, released this week, argues.

Leaders of NATO meet in Lisbon today for two days, where they are expected to draw up a timetable to transfer responsibility for security to Afghan forces.

The report, published jointly by Christian Aid, Open Society Foundations, and the Oxford Research Group, says the transition will not work without a political settlement. “This is the only viable solution to avoid either a deepening military quagmire or a cut-and-run deal,” the report states.

NATO governments should be willing to consider “a new approach which puts reconciliation and the drive for a comprehensive peace settlement at the heart of the inter­national strategy in Afghanistan”. The report recommends that “the main insurgent groups” in Afghanistan should be “accepted as interlocutors in a political process”.

It says that the current precon­dition set by NATO — that insurgent groups should disarm before enter­ing talks — is “effectively demanding surrender” in the eyes of opposition groups.

The senior policy officer for Christian Aid, Ben Hobbs, said: “After more than three decades of conflict, Afghans face some of the highest levels of poverty in the world. They now need a peace agreement that can enable them to start rebuilding their country and their lives.”

The senior advocate at Open Society Foundations, Fatima Ayub, said: “What Afghan civil groups want is for the Afghan government and its international backers to . . . show they will listen to Afghans about what should, and shouldn’t, be part of any agreement.”

The report says that Afghan civilians want a peace deal “to provide the conditions for them to have a better chance to resolve the everyday grievances that prevent them from pursuing their livelihoods, having a better say in the their future, and gaining access to justice when they need it.”

Mr Hobbs said that there needed to be “tangible guarantees of women’s rights in a future peace deal, other­wise it simply won’t be seen as legit­imate. But, by the same token, we do not think the defence of women’s rights should be used as a justifica­tion for continuing the conflict.”

The report’s recommendations include seeking “UN Security Council backing for a comprehensive peace process for Afghanistan”; the appointment of “a high-level mediator or envoy to take talks forward”; and a change of military tactics so that they “support confidence-building towards peace”.

Governments urged to intervene. Campaigners are calling on Western governments to intervene on behalf of an Afghan who converted from Islam to Christianity. The Barnabas Fund said in a statement released on Tuesday that Said Musa, aged 45, was arrested in May “as part of a crack­down against Afghan converts to Christianity. . . Observers say he is likely to be charged with apostasy from Islam — a crime that is pun­ished by death under Islamic law.”

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