Reintegrating the Taliban, Really

The whole question of reintegrating the Taliban bears some attention, since it’s now become the new buzzword with regard to creating the political conditions necessary to ending the insurgency. Yesterday, Craig Davis’ WPR Briefing examined some of the cultural challenges reintegration will present. Today, Joshua Partlow examines some of the political challenges it raises in terms of negotiating with the Taliban leadership, and Martine van Bijlert recently examined some of the potential pitfalls of implementation in terms of ground-level foot soldiers.

Clearly, there are a lot of circles to square, and it seems obvious that any power-sharing arrangement will be fragile at best. One concrete question I haven’t seen raised yet, for instance, is whether it would be an arrangement based on including the Taliban in the central government, or whether it would be based on decentralized regional autonomy for Afghanistan’s Pashtun belt. If the former, what ministries would the Taliban get? If the latter, which would be at cross-purposes with President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to centralize power, how much autonomy would be granted?

Those are two simplistic questions, perhaps, but they illustrate how even a “frozen solution” of the sort we’ve seen in Zimbabwe and Kenya, or in Morocco and the Western Sahara, might be out of reach in Afghanistan.

It also demonstrates the danger of buzzword- and narrative-driven policy. I realize that a lot of my recent thinking on Afghanistan has been based on both. So this is my way of recognizing that it’s a tenuous foundation on which to build a workable solution.

More World Politics Review