Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Little hope of Taliban settlement before 2014

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LONDON: When the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, they left behind a government in Kabul which outlasted the Soviet Union, kept Islamist insurgents at bay, and collapsed only after the money ran out.

A similar scenario is taking shape again, only this time — Western countries hope — without the money running out.

Analysts say there is little prospect of a political settlement with Taliban insurgents by 2014, when the United States and its allies plan to pull out most combat troops.

Instead, the aim is to leave behind a government strong enough to escape the fate of its Soviet-era predecessor, which collapsed in 1992 in a bitter civil war, and whose president Mohammad Najibullah was eventually captured, tortured and executed by the Taliban when they overran Kabul in 1996.

”Frankly, we don’t know whether the insurgents will come to the table,” Simon Gass, NATO’s senior civilian representative in Kabul, told reporters after a regional conference on Afghanistan in Istanbul last week.

But he acknowledged it might be easier for the Afghan government to negotiate after 2014 when the insurgents — who say they are fighting to drive foreign troops out of Afghanistan — might prove more amenable.

”We cannot gamble Afghanistan’s future on the willingness of the insurgents to talk peace,” he said. There was therefore a ”fair-weather strategy” backing an Afghan-led peace process and a ”rainy-day strategy” of building up Afghan security forces.

The United States has said it is open to talks with insurgents who are willing to sever ties with al Qaeda, renounce violence and respect the Afghan constitution.

That sentiment was echoed by Afghans at the Istanbul conference, despite intense anger over the assassination in September of Afghan peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani, which Afghanistan says was planned by Pakistan-based insurgents.

”We are ready to talk to everybody, every Afghan citizen if he or she is ready to talk for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, national security adviser to President Hamid Karzai, told Reuters.

Several years of contacts have so far led nowhere and Rabbani’s murder by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace emissary prompted Karzai to say he would be better off talking directly to Pakistan, where the Taliban leadership is based.

”We cannot keep talking to suicide bombers, therefore we have stopped talking about talking to the Taliban until we have an address for the Taliban,” he told a news conference.

But after several meetings in Istanbul between Afghanistan and Pakistan, their first since Rabbani was killed, the two countries are expected to try to pick up the threads of Taliban talks.

The Taliban insurgents themselves are increasingly fragmented, with Pakistan-based leaders sometimes struggling to assert their authority over younger fighters in the field, and divided among themselves on peace talks. (UNI)

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