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United States-Taliban Peace Conference: Will It Succeed?

At long last, after 12 years of war, the longest war in American history, President Barack Obama decided to send his negotiating team to Doha, Qatar on June 18, 2013 and meet with the Taliban negotiating team to reach a peace accord. This was indeed a magnanimous gesture for peace on the part of the U.S. president. Equally magnanimous was the acquiescence of the Taliban leader Respected Mullah Omar (Amirulmomineen) to send his negotiating team to reach a peace accord. The advent of the peace conference on June 18, 2013 is a major defining event for the United States, the Taliban, Afghanistan and world peace. The opening of U.S.-Taliban peace conference signifies that the U.S. no longer view the Taliban as a terrorist group, otherwise, it would not participate in peace negotiation with them. Moreover, no evidence has been produced that the Taliban had any knowledge or were accessory to the terrorist attack of 9/11 against the United States.

The critical point at this juncture is to insure that the peace accord is reached and its goals including an immediate ceasefire, and in the next stage, perhaps in Kabul, an agreement among diverse Afghan groups must be reached with specific goals of an immediate ceasefire, eliminating all terrorist and violent activities, abstaining from the use of force in any dispute, negotiating (Jirga and shura) dispute resolutions, granting rights to diverse groups especially women's rights, eliminating poppy production by providing subsidies to farmers, and reforms must be instituted to improve civil governance, eliminate corruption including warlords and drug lords and reducing unemployment rate to below 10 percent in five years. Subsequent goals could include development of housing, expatriating Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran, and reconstruction of infrastructure and social services. Afghanis should seriously explore the exploitation of its rich mineral resources to pay for the cost of these projects.

The above goals can be achieved as the Afghanis are weary of 35 years of wars and the U.S/NATO and Taliban/Afghanis have sustained enormous damages in lives and treasure over the last 12 years of war.

However, the peace conference has been fraught with communication and more importantly structural misunderstanding on the part of both Taliban and U.S. negotiating teams which has caused rupture in the peace negotiating process. They do not seem to understand each other. The break could be cured by engaging Afghan-American intermediaries who are knowledgeable about both cultures and could close the communication and structural gaps. Moreover, some Afghans fear the re-emergence of Taliban and the risk of the unknown regarding their policies. President Karzai, who is a lame duck president (his term is up in April, 2014) feels that his position is being undermined by the U.S. These concerns are being allayed by Taliban policy position which has spelled out in detail all specific policies with a view to eliminate the fear of Afghans and appropriately inform the world of their policies.

Afghanistan has suffered for nearly half a century and requires a renaissance and a new approach including drawing credit on its mineral resources to finance its current and development budgets. The Afghans must consider shaking off the immediate past, avoid "the blame game," and move forward emphasizing education, civility, economic development, full employment, equitable distribution of opportunity and income, and equal rights for all.

This 180-degree shift in policy augurs well for the arrival of peace in Afghanistan after being involved in various conflicts for 35 years. The expectation is that fighting will stop when cease fire agreement is reached and foreign troops are gradually gone and the flow of suicide bombers and explosives from Pakistan are halted. The Taliban policies include participation in the political process, education and employment for women, dialogue with various Afghan groups, and participation in the government by all groups, end of violence and a peaceful society. Following are some salient points.

1. A peace accord will prevent an overthrow of the central government. The Taliban shadow government is already in a dominant position with respect to most of the country's population and land area. Besides, the Afghan military's loyalty is to their warlords rather than the central government, and it will disintegrate rather rapidly. A condition of peace settlement must be no use of force by all factions.

A positive note on this issue is the message that the Taliban issued during the recent Paris peace conference and subsequent policy briefs. It stated that the Taliban believed that all Afghan factions (tribes, ethnicities, etc.) were entitled to legitimate participation in the government and that women will have the right to education and employment. Under this axiom it is possible that the current Central government will be replaced readily, and a new government may emerge with minimal distortion. This might most likely be the outcome if the scheduled election is postponed a few months, let us say August instead of April, 2014 to give the Taliban an opportunity to participate in the political process.

2. Is there a deep dissonance or discord between sectarian, linguistic, or ethnic groups of the population? Recent history demonstrates that the population during the reign of former King Zahir Shah lived in relative peace for 40 years (1933-1973). First of all, Afghanistan's population is nearly 100 percent Muslim. Although there is a minority of Shia, the two sects have lived in peace for centuries. The only major difference among Afghans is language. There are two prominent languages, Pashtu and Farsi. There are some frictions on this issue, but it is not serious, and in the city of Kabul most of the population is bilingual. Although the ethnic Pashtun population is in the majority and have dominated the government since the 1700s, the other ethnic groups are gaining relative political power. In terms of per capita income, the country's northern region, made up of Uzbeks and Tajiks, tops the rest. In other words, there is no misdistribution of income, wealth, or land in Afghanistan. Therefore, peace and civility amongst the diverse ethnic groups could be a possibility as the country attempts to repair itself and prevail.

3. Another positive note for peaceful post-war Afghanistan is the population's war weariness. It was in 1978 when the Marxist government overthrew the former established government of Afghanistan, and since then, some level of military conflict has endured, wreaking pervasive damages on the country and exacting a high toll in lives and wealth. Afghanistan needs peace to exploit its rich mineral resources, develop industries including food production, agribusiness, tourism, construction, and infrastructure, and expand its already rapid growth of transportation and communication networks. Afghanistan's recent annual growth of gross domestic product (GDP) is very favorable. If these trends continue in the postwar period, Afghanistan's per capita income could converge with and even surpass that of some its neighbors.

4. On the positive side, inequality in distribution of wealth, land, and income in Afghanistan is not at the forefront of the ongoing conflict since landlordism is not present in Afghanistan. Recent economic movement has created a dual economy as certain sectors have flourished such as communication, transportation, education, art, and entertainment have pulled ahead, while other sectors, most notably mineral resources and agri-business, are poised to catch up. However, a small group of individuals who have exploited corruption has swindled millions of dollars out of the country and must be eventually held accountable and brought to justice.

5. Drug trafficking dominates the Afghan black market economy as Afghanistan is the major world poppy exporter/producer. With so much profit to be made in drug trafficking, many government officials fall victim to temptation. Afghans have rightfully lost faith in their government and crime goes largely unreported, which only provides more incentives and opportunities for criminals who have little fear of being caught. The entire approach of controlling poppy production needs to be revised by the Afghan authorities in favor of alternative crops.

6. There has been a major gap between donors' aid promises and disbursement as espoused in several international donor meetings. Aid has not been channeled through the Afghan system and has not had an appreciable impact upon economic development. There is a need to overhaul the approach, and the Afghans must be given the opportunity to be in the driver's seat. War damages must be compensated by all invading countries.

7. The Afghan government's takeover of the entire security apparatus must be realistic and geared to fiscal sustainability with regard to the Afghan budget. The current contemplated security force of 350,000 soldiers is unrealistic and burdensome relative to Afghanistan's fiscal capacity and security requirements. A more sustainable level may be approximately 100,000 soldiers including police force.

8. Regardless of what happens to the U.S. role after 2014, there is indeed a deluge of uncertainty among Afghans. The post-war Afghanistan can be described as an overflow of ambiguities. Nothing is certain for Afghans as the explicit and implicit damages of such a long war settle in. Right now, the psychological, economic, and political factors following this lengthy war are significant is determining the pace at which Afghanistan will attempt to recover and rebuild. Afghanistan has the opportunity to accept the past and commit to a future of peace, liberty, and progress. There must come a time that music, art, internet education, and technology find a strong presence in the schools of Afghanistan. As the country marches in to the 21st century, the potential of electing a woman president should exist. The Afghans need to acknowledge their potential and draw upon their past experiences to create a forward-thinking perspective where hardships do not control the opportunity for growth. It is extraordinary that Afghanistan was invaded by NATO a defensive pact for 12 years without any cause. This is history's firs and hopefully last. Dwelling on the darkness of their past and allowing it to influence their current state will only produce more darkness. It is time for Afghanistan to look deeply within and invest all of its energy into education for the youth, emphasizing ethical understanding and a passionate commitment to justice and liberty for all. Furthermore, Afghans ethnic groups must adopt the ideal of mutual collaboration in order to maximize knowledge, both within their own country and with neighboring countries.

It is axiomatic that foreign invasions and occupations are to blame for Afghanistan's current malaise. Foreign occupation created ethnic divisions in Afghan society -- the central governments have become puppets of foreign invader as with Dr. Najib and the Soviet Union and Karzai re the United States -- supporting foreign occupiers while freedom fighters resisted. NO DOUBT Afghanistan would be better off if the U.S. and its allies would simply leave unconditionally, THIS SHOULD BE THE OUTCOME OF THE CURRENT PEACE CONFERENCE IN DOHA. The Afghans must be encouraged, rather, forward movement to find a common identity and a peaceful solution to its problems and making the whole of Afghan society part of the solution, including giving legitimacy and a stake to all segments of the population in the outcome, especially women. Also, there must be a tapping into a common identity around Afghanistan's innate values: respect for neighbors, elderly, and fellow citizens, pride, dignity, honesty, and integrity. The Afghans could go back to their common heritage and to the time before the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1979. One cannot overstate the importance of finding common ground in re-creating the real Afghan culture to build an environment that fosters trust and peace.

At this time it would be prudent for the governments of Afghanistan and NATO to declare an immediate and general cease fire and general amnesty. This would avail plenty of opportunity to shift from a war to a peace mentality.

Nake Kamrany is a professor of economics at the University of Southern California and Director of Program in Law and Economics, University of Southern California.

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