Afghanistan Reconciliation Reboot

For some yet unknown reason the mainstream press would have you believe Afghan peace czar Burhanuddin Rabbani's assassination has doomed the reconciliation process and any chances for peace in Afghanistan -- which is an absurdity given the fact such a process never truly existed anyway.

From the New York Times to TIME magazine, one can't turnaround without reading about Rabbani the peacemaker whose untimely demise has now guaranteed war without end in Afghanistan. The former theology professor's media makeover has been quite impressive considering during his reign as president from 1992 to 1996, according to Human Rights Watch, Rabbani's regime committed a slew of heinous war crimes including the murder, rape and torture of thousands of Afghan civilians. In fact, it was Rabbani's sadistic and corrupt rule that helped facilitate the Taliban's ascendance.

President Karzai turned the reconciliation process into an exercise in futility by selecting Rabbani to head the Afghan High Peace Council in the first place, because by doing so he commissioned a Tajik warlord with a significant amount of Pashtun blood on his hands to seek out and negotiate a settlement with members of a Pashtun-dominated insurgency.

The reconciliation initiative has defects that run deeper than Rabbani's revisionist history, because the very principles upon which the entire process rests must be uprooted. At the heart of the dilemma has been the U.S.-led coalition's efforts to force install a Western-style uber-centralized government in Kabul that is anathema to centuries-old Afghan institutions and value systems. The foreign-designed Afghan constitution has allowed for a gross consolidation of power and wealth that has directly fostered a culture of impunity, enabling characters like Rabbani to be recycled into leadership positions ad infinitum.

Hence, any arrangement between powerbrokers who derive their authority from brute force will allow this pattern to continue. Peace without justice has proven to be a losing recipe and a "grand peace deal" will not erase social iniquities from three decades of war and will not deliver the much-needed national catharsis and psychological recovery the Afghan people deserve.

In addition, Karzai himself is perceived as an illegitimate modern-day Shah Shuja who has retained power via fraudulent elections. And the U.S. has exacerbated the situation by favoring strongman-rule in a short-sighted effort to defeat the Taliban militarily. Meanwhile, the international community has excluded traditional leaders with historical legitimacy from the political process while it has failed to provide space for the development of civil society and adequate governing institutions. According to the International Crisis Group's Candace Rondeaux:

Though a sustainable political settlement will without doubt entail prolonged engagement with a broad range of Afghans -- from civil society activists, to political party leaders, women and youth groups, religious and legal scholars as well as members of the armed opposition -- neither Washington nor Kabul has indicated any genuine interest in expanding the national dialogue on reconciliation...

The notion that cutting a deal with the Pakistani-supported Taliban will achieve any semblance of stability is a dangerous and delusional one. Such a deal, by the way, will allow Pakistan to realize its vision of installing an Islamic hardline regime in Kabul that would be hostile towards India.

Besides, failing to find any contacts within the Taliban movement empowered to speak on behalf of the insurgency, Western officials readily admit the process hasn't amounted to anything beyond "talks about talks." It's now clear the Karzai regime had been duped into believing the Taliban were interested in talks -- a ruse exposed when a suicide bomber killed Rabbani in his home on Tuesday.

A broad-based political settlement is in order involving representatives from all segments of Afghan society. What is not needed, according to Michael O'Hanlon from the Brookings Institution, is the equivalent of a "secretly negotiated Kissinger-like armistice between President Karzai and Mullah Omar."

Afghans desperately want to start from a clean slate but would be well-served to look to their past for clues on how to start anew. When the country did enjoy any semblance of stability the writ of the central government was limited while dynastic loyalty cemented Afghanistan's mosaic of ethnicities, tribes and religious sects together, producing an informal Afghan-style democracy that was much more effective than what is nominally in place today. Authority was devolved, equitably distributed at the local level and decisions were arrived at via consensus-building -- which stands in sharp contrast to the amalgamation and abuse of power evident today.

In order to restore this type of society the current reconciliation program must be abandoned in favor of a far more inclusive process of self-determination, thereby avoiding problems that invariably arise when the job of peacemaking is left in the hands of a select few.