Britain and other NATO countries must now agree to formal peace talks with all parties in the Afghanistan conflict, including the Taliban and Afghanistan’s neighbours, say a group of leading development, human rights and conflict prevention organisations.
In a report published on 15 November 2010 ahead of the NATO leaders’ summit in Lisbon on Friday, the groups say that if NATO member states do not lay out a coherent plan for peace talks soon, many Afghans fear that as troop withdrawal deadlines loom, they may be left with a hurried back-room deal between power-brokers that will unravel into a return to civil war.
The summit will be the last chance for the leaders of NATO member states to consider a change of course on Afghanistan before President Obama’s crucial review of US strategy on the war which is due in December.
The gathering is expected to set a timetable for transferring responsibility for security from NATO to Afghan forces over the next four years, but the report, Piecemeal or peace deal?, by Christian Aid, the Open Society Foundations and the Oxford Research Group, says this transition will not work without the political settlement needed to underpin it.
"This is the only viable solution to avoid either a deepening military quagmire or a cut-and-run deal which might allow international troops to withdraw, only to see another civil war lead to terrible human suffering and dangerous regional instability", says the report.
"That is why NATO governments should make clear at the Lisbon Summit their willingness to consider a new approach which puts reconciliation and the drive for a comprehensive peace settlement at the heart of the international strategy on Afghanistan", it adds.
The report argues: "The main insurgent groups need to be accepted as interlocutors in a political process, along with other major political groupings, as long as they are prepared to talk instead of fight, and within the framework of the current Afghan constitution.’ The present precondition that they should disarm first and give up their weapons is, it says, ‘effectively demanding surrender in the eyes of most opposition groups."
Ben Hobbs, Senior Policy Officer, Christian Aid said: "We agree that a peace process must be ‘Afghan-led’, but Afghanistan’s international partners must stop hiding behind this phrase to wash its hands of playing a part in talks to end the war. After more than three decades of conflict Afghans face some of the highest level of poverty in the world. They now need a peace agreement that can enable them to start rebuilding their country and their lives."
Chris Langdon, Managing Director of the global security think-tank Oxford Research Group added: "NATO leaders are due to agree plans for the ‘transition’ from ISAF to Afghan security forces. But what they should really be discussing is the kind of political settlement needed to achieve the transition from war to peace."
Fatima Ayub, Senior Advocate at Open Society Foundations, who took part in a conference last week between Afghan civil groups and senior UN and Afghan Government representatives on the possibility of peace talks, commented: "What Afghan civil groups want is for the Afghan Government and its international backers to be clear about where they stand on talks - and to show they will listen to Afghans about what should, and shouldn’t, be part of any agreement."
She continued: "They want a neutral third party to ensure people’s grievances are heard so that any peace agreement delivers the good governance and stability needed to make it last."
Real peace talks are a non-starter without the support of the leaders of the US, Britain and other ISAF-contributing countries involved, argues the report.
The report lays out ten ingredients for a transition to peace, including engaging the Taliban and other armed opposition groups, involving Afghanistan’s neighbours, and protecting the human and civil rights of Afghan women and men while bringing all sides to the table for talks. They are calling on NATO leaders members to:
• Agree to seek UN Security Council backing for a comprehensive peace process for Afghanistan.
• Back the appointment of a high-level UN-backed mediator to take forward peace talks.
• Approve a change of military tactics to support confidence-building towards peace (for example, through locally-negotiated ceasefires or suspending widely-resented tactics like night raids in particular areas).