Can there be peace in Afghanistan and at what cost?


When and under what conditions would troops leave Afghanistan and what kind of country would they be leaving behind? The reality behind the rhetoric of military operations and peace and reconciliation talks with the Taliban was discussed on Tuesday at a debate chaired by David Loyn, BBC international development correspondent.

Karen Pierce, Foreign and Commonwealth Office director for South Asia and Afghanistan and UK special representative, said that “a small draw down” of US troops will take place in July but that “come August 2011 a large number of international forces will still be there”:

I think that will come as a shock to some of the insurgents who have relied on the rhetoric of the West going.

The international community will need to be engaged in Afghanistan in one form or another for many decades – the IMF’s own estimates show that Afghanistan will not be self-supporting in financial terms until around 2023 and if you think that it starts from a very low base – fourth poorest country in the world…it would be reasonable to think that Afghanistan would need a lot of international support.

Shaykh Abdullah Anas Bashir, founder of the TARUF Association and a veteran of the Afghan Jihad, said he hoped that at some point the “nightmare” could finish:

But with a little bit of difficulty; it’s not simple. I do believe the unity and the peace and the reconciliation will come from society itself, not from NATO or ISAF. But there is no plan or project inside Afghanistan to do it. Afghan society is completely frozen, there are no projects, no plans, nothing is happening inside Afghanistan between scholars, media, everyone.
Afghan has stopped, it’s doing nothing. We never reached the level for negotiations, we are just trying to bring the conditions. 

Emal Pasarly, multimedia editor for the BBC Pashto-Persian service, argued that there had been some progress but blamed the West for failing to offer real protection to Taliban members who did want peace:

Who could guarantee that any Taliban could come and stay in Kandahar or Kabul without being arrested. Karzai cannot guarantee that. I know numerous Taliban who have said OK can you guarantee me that I could come over there? No. The only guy who was guaranteed by the IASAF, they were jumping up and down that they had brought someone to Kabul was a shopkeeper who took the money and was gone. They don’t need to protect them, the Afghan government can protect them they just need not to arrest them and send them to Guantanamo.

Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch, agreed that the US was not about to pull out soon, adding that in fact there was a “massive rearmament campaign” going on with not only the build up of the army and police but also a new force of Afghan local police which were an experiment in tribal militias.

Afghans are anxious about this and the way they are being forced to take sides – this anxiety is  responsible for the “stasis” described by Shaykh Abdullah Anas Bashir, she said.

If there was a pull out, that’s what really worries me in terms of civilian protection because what happens when special forces leave and they’ve been seen to choose the wrong side?

Asked what ten years of intervention had achieved Rachel Reid said there had been many gains, including the beginning of a vibrant media, the beginnings of democracy and women active in public life. 

But I fear that with this government and with the internationals in such a rush, if we do see some kind of peace process it’s more likely to be the kind of deal making we’ve seen in the past.

There’s absolutely no vetting of any meaningful nature going on – I heard just last week that a Mullah responsible for ordering the stoning of a pregnant woman last summer has just been reintegrated. When people are being brought in to have power over people’s lives without any weeding out of some of the worst abusers of these communities then this is not going to be a peace worth its name.

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