Afghanistan: Negotiating With War Criminals?

A vote by the Afghan Senate last week calling on the Afghan government to enter into negotiations with the Taliban has created a considerable amount of buzz. In fact, the idea is not new. It was first publicly floated by the chairman of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), Kurt Beck, following a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on April 1. At the time, the reaction of the Afghan government to Beck’s proposal was hardly enthusiastic. “The hard core among the Islamists, like Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his [since killed] military chief Mullah Dadullah, do not want peace,” Minister of Commerce Amin Farhang was quoted as saying in the German magazine Focus, “They want the destruction of the new Afghanistan.” German Foreign Minister — and fellow SPD member — Frank-Walter Steinmeier, however, voiced his support for Beck.

In the meanwhile, the German diplomat and U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, has gone even further than Beck: insisting that even Taliban “war criminals” must be included in negotiations. Here a translated excerpt from his April 13 interview with Gerold Büchner of the German daily die Berliner Zeitung:

What evidence do you have that elements among the Taliban are prepared [to negotiate]?

This is a movement that includes terrorists and employs terrorist methods, but that has a political background. The violent resistance against the government consists of many different elements: young fighters, who sometimes just need money; people who consider themselves to have suffered disadvantages on account of corrupt or biased government functionaries; drug-traffickers and other criminals; convinced Islamic fundamentalists, who believe that in the long-run they are on the right side. It is nonsense to think that one has to shoot them all dead in order to win the conflict. Of course, there have to be talks with certain groups . . .

What is the basis for such talks?

There are massive conflicts between the old elites and the new elites, the Mullahs. The latter had no say in the past and it is by way of the Taliban that they first came to the forefront. Now, there is also the government with democratically-elected representatives. There are thus three elites struggling for political power.

But what can one do with the radicals in order not to shoot them all dead?

The United Nations is attempting to integrate people as quickly as possible by way of negotiated ceasefire agreements. Political conflicts should be talked out at the negotiating table and resolved with words [mit Worten gelöst werden]. In Musa Qala such an agreement brought about peace for four months, before it broke down due to the military actions first of the Taliban and then of the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] NATO troops. But one should not exclude the possibility of a gradual pacification.

Where have you seen successes up to now?

We have been able to mediate in conflicts between particular tribes and to convince them to unite under the flag of the Governor of the respective province. Otherwise, they would also have drifted over to the Taliban or at least the weaker factions would have. To take an ideological approach and insist “but we won’t speak with them” is senseless. If there is a possibility for peace, we have to speak with everyone – even with suspected war criminals.

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