Afghanistan Analysts Network – English


Epistemology of Reconciliation debate

AAN admin 3 min

While analysts, journalists and diplomats obsess over the twists and turns of the vote count in Kabul, an interesting discussion on ‘Reconciliation’ unfolded in the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies on Wednesday evening. ‘Reconciliation’ did indeed prove to be a magic word loaded with politics, possibilities and polarities, drawing a packed house with no standing room left by the end. — By Aunohita Mojumdar*

On attendance were diplomats, researchers, academics, some government officials as well as journalists, all of whom had forsaken the ‘5 o’clock follies ’ (the daily press briefing of the Independent Election Commission) to turn up for this debate.
Notwithstanding who wins and by what margin, ‘Reconciliation’ with a big or small ‘r’ is likely to be high on the agenda of the next government as well as the international community’s engagement with the next government, and its significance was on full display.

Moderated by John Dempsey of the United States Institute of Peace, the discussion had Thomas Ruttig from the Afghan Analysts Network (AAN) and Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Network though Nadery wears several hats at the same time including that of the head of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA). Also present in absentia was Michael Semple, a former UN diplomat who had been expelled unceremoniously from the country in 2007 for alleged unauthorized talks with Taleban and whose new book, ‘Reconciliation in Afghanistan’ was the focus of discussion.

Issues covered by Nadery included the absence of a mandate, mechanism, procedure and vision in the present reconciliation process and the lack of clarity on who would or could be part of the process. Nadery said the overwhelming number of Afghans wanted to see an end to the conflict and were supportive of reconciliation as long as it was not unconditional and protected the gains they had made, including on human rights and women’s rights. Talks should be from a position of strength and not appeasement he said.

Ruttig dwelt on issues he had outlined in a recent paper ‘The Other Side’ emphasizing that the insurgency was a broad based phenomenon with varying groups of varying motivations including but not limited to the Taliban. He argued that the motivations driving insurgents were key to an understanding of them and how they could be approached rather than individual names and leaders. It was also necessary to place reconciliation – the process of reconciling with the insurgents – within a larger process of Reconciliation that involved the Afghan government dealing with issues of transitional justice and the violent past. To understand the roots of alienation it was necessary to go into the past he said. For any talks or negotiations it was necessary to have red lines (which laid down boundaries of compromise), transparency and inclusiveness.

The brief presentations by the speakers allowed room for many questions and interventions which was interesting in that it portrayed a wide array of opinions within the diplomatic community, civil society and the Afghan government itself.

They included questions as to: Who was reconcilable and forgivable and who was not? Was reconciliation really an Afghan demand? Was reconciliation being viewed as an exit strategy by the international community? Would the international community have the patience for a broader process of reconciliation? Was it possible to talk of reconciliation when there was a huge morass of internationals who had not delivered on justice and rule of law, but were being increasingly seen as corrupt, arrogant and unwelcome?

AIHRC’s Nadery made an important distinction between those who had committed violence against the government and violence against civilians in looking at the acceptable boundaries of amnesty. However the distinction is easier in principle than actuality in a civil war where entire populations were asked to take sides.

Ruttig disputed the notion of an ideal military solution saying the time for a solution through more military troops had passed and is was necessary to bring different groups together and even to build bridges across the country. While most of the diplomatic community has been emphasizing that any reconciliation must be Afghan led, Ruttig emphasized that neither NATO, ISAF nor the Afghan government could play the role of a neutral mediator since they were parties to a conflict, thus bringing to the fore the problems any negotiations will face in finding a neutral mediator with wide acceptability.

While one Afghan Government official asserted the impossibility of talking to the Taliban – whose epistemological worldview put them outside the pale according to him – Ruttig emphasized the starting point of any reconciliation process that Afghanistan would undertake: the need to treat the Taliban and other insurgents as human beings.

* Aunohita Mojumdar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul. She has reported on the South Asian region for the past 19 years.


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