NATO: Winning Peace in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is fractured between peace and conflict geographically as well as structurally. However NATO can win the peace in Afghanistan because of four trends noticed recently; commitment of the international community, increased obligation by NATO and Australia, citizens welcoming peace and development and finally opening moves of peace talks between government and Taliban.

The UN Security Council authorized NATO-led troops to stay in Afghanistan for another year on 19 September. The vote was 14-0 with Russia abstaining in a resolution that emphasized "the increased violent and terrorist activities by the Taliban, Al Qaeda, illegally armed groups and those involved in the narcotics trade." The resolution also recognizes the need to further strengthen ISAF and asks countries "to contribute personnel, equipment and other resources." And it condemns "in the strongest terms" suicide attacks, abductions and other violent action against civilians and international forces "and their deleterious effect on the stabilization, reconstruction and development efforts."

The document singles out the Taliban "and other extremist groups" for using civilians as human shields. International support will be the first strategy for winning Afghanistan. In no previous wars in this fractured South West Asian state was the international community one, neither backing the British nor the Soviets. This will be the first step that will build success.   

Greater commitment of NATO states to stay and increase the level of troops and equipment will be the second step to success. Germany is likely to approve extension of tenure of deployment in Afghanistan while Spain will increase the number of troops. Spain's Parliament agreed on 25 September to send 52 military instructors to Afghanistan, a day after two members of its military contingent died there in a land mine explosion.

Despite the casualties Spain remains committed to helping rebuild post-Taliban Afghanistan, where it has 700 soldiers, and the instructors to train Afghan forces. France has decided to send 200 more troops comprising of signal officers and military advisers, who would help train the Afghan army, said French Defence Minister Herve Morin after his meeting with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 7 September.

Another encouraging news was extension of the tenure of Dutch troops. This was confirmed by the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende on 11 September. Netherlands is contributing 1,800 soldiers for NATO's peacekeeping and counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan. And there is Australia which is more than willing to increase the commitment though strictly not a part of NATO.

Additional commitment of nations to Afghanistan is welcome as it would facilitate maintaining adequate security presence even if it is in the less turbulent North and West of the country. By restricting the Taliban to the South and the East, offensive action is contemplated to neutralize and force it from guerrilla warfare to a networked terror mode.

Hundreds of people rallied across war-scarred Afghanistan on 21 September to call for an end to violence on the United Nations' Day of Peace. The UN mission in Afghanistan said events were held in major cities on a scale not been seen before and President Hamid Karzai delivered a radio address to mark the day. "Afghanistan feels bound as a United Nations family member to spare no endeavors for permanent peace in Afghanistan, the region and in the world and uprooting the causes that damage peace," Karzai said. Afghan elders gave safe passage to volunteer vaccinators immunizing children against polio in Afghanistan's violent south, an area where health workers haven't worked for months. Health workers have been abducted in the past, but Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi has said the militants would allow the workers access in southern Afghanistan for the current polio campaign. Polio is an highly emotive issue in Afghanistan, permission to spread the vaccine is also acceptance of development as a means to generate progress.

There is an upsurge in school education. About six million children, half the school-aged population, are in school in Afghanistan, about six times more than in 2001.

However nearly 400 schools in Afghanistan remain closed because of violence. All the affected schools, among 8,500 in Afghanistan, are in the south, where the violence is worst. Since 2005, more than 110 teachers, students and other education workers have been killed, most of them in southern Afghanistan. The closure meant that around 200,000 school children would not be able to attend classes in four provinces in the unrest-torn south. All this will add to the peace dividend.

There were opening moves of talks by the Government. Karzai has been reiterating his offer for talks but also indicating that there was no address or telephone number to talk to. On the other hand the Taliban spokesperson while responding to President Karzai's appeal indicated willingness of the Taliban to talks. Later however a number of conditions were laid out such as "The Taliban will not be ready for negotiations until the U.S. and its allies leave our country. We will pursue our jihad against America and its allies until they leave our country. After that ... then the Taliban will be ready for negotiations."

There is a general consensus amongst local Afghan leaders for talks with the Taliban. This was confirmed by Karzai when he met with several former warlords-turned-politicians on 19 September and they agreed the government should hold peace talks with the Taliban. The process of defeating an insurgency includes a multi pronged approach so that the moderates and radical elements in a militant organization are separated and the former brought into the main stream by offering surrenders and rehabilitation. It is the latter process which is the most challenging and needs to be drawn up with due care.

Talks are no doubt an effective strategy to bring down a terrorist organization. However there is always a time to commence the same. This time has not been reached as far as the Al Qaeda is concerned. It is very much active in many parts of the World and particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Somalia and North Africa. Thus at present such a strategy is not going to work. Peace talks with Taliban are also quite premature at this stage as the militants continue to have a sizeable influence in many areas in the South and the East. However as a part of the overall strategy of militancy, it will be important to break the deadlock once the time is ripe.

However the path ahead is not easy, there will be many more suicide attacks and sadly deaths of civilians and soldiers alike, but by following this four pronged path, NATO can win in Afghanistan. 


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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