02 December, 2006

Musa Qala: template for peace or Pandora's Box?

The International Herald Tribune carries an article, which first appeared in the New York Times, reporting differences in Afghan opinion over the truce negotiated between the British army and the Taliban at Musa Qala, in September. The article says the truce has deeply divided opinion:

Some fear it represents a capitulation to the Taliban, sets a dangerous precedent, and may further weaken the authority of the central government. Others defend the accord and say it could point to a way forward in negotiating peace in parts of Afghanistan.
The locals and their tribal elders are happy enough to be left in peace. Most of the opposition seems to come from vested interests: former militia leaders and the Kabul government's members and officials trying to defend their own power bases.
By allowing one district to choose its own officials and police, which was also agreed to under the accord, the government has opened a Pandora's Box and more districts are clamoring for the same right, one lawmaker warned. Granting local autonomy in exchange for peace would represent a reversal of five years of U.S. policy aimed at building a strong central government in Afghanistan.
There is the problem of Afghanistan, which the US and NATO need to take on board. I have written before of Pashtun independence and it applies in a wider context: any attempt by Kabul to impose tight central control on the provinces is likely to have only one result - civil war. The tribal elders are not going to give up their rights to run their own affairs as they see fit.

The question now is not if the Taliban will be part of any settlement but how much authority they will be able to exert within Afghanistan's borders. Unlike the elders, Karzai's government has shown no sign of being able to deal with them. The best the US and NATO can hope for is some sort of loose federal system in which Kabul respects the authority of the elders, as the only group which can exert some limiting influence over the Taliban.

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