The long-awaited announcement of the peace council tasked with talking to the Taleban has been greeted with scepticism by some Afghans who believe its composition and the insurgents’ refusal to negotiate until foreign forces leave do not bode well.
The High Peace Council was established following a consultative peace jirga in June, and aims to engage with the insurgents over the country’s future. The body is made up of 70 members, including jihadi leaders, former Taleban, communist era officials, civil and religious leaders.
Afghan government spokesman Wahid Omar said that those who could play an effective role in the peace process were selected for the council, with former fighters handed a particularly influential role.
“We hope that the High Peace Council will rid Afghanistan of crisis and war,” he said.
But some question whether the Taleban will be willing to talk to council members who the insurgents fought for many years and who subsequently allied themselves with international forces.
“I am surprised why [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai’s government wastes its time in establishing such jirgas and councils, because the Taleban have already expressed their opposition, saying they will not talk about peace as long as the foreigners have not withdrawn. In this case, what does establishing a council mean?” said Kabir Ranjbar, a political expert and member of parliament for Kabul province.
“How will the Taleban reconcile with the individuals included in the council? They call them the murderers of the people. They called them troublemakers and corrupt and fought against them for a number of years.”
The council includes leaders of some mujahedin factions including Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rabb Rasul Sayyaf and Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq, who lead factions that fought the Soviets in the 1980s before turning on each other in a vicious civil war.
High Peace Council member Mawlawi Ataullah Ludin, a parliamentarian from Nangarhar province, said that Afghans were tired after more than 30 years of war and were now ready to move towards peace.
“The president has been very careful while selecting members of the High Peace Council,” he said. “He has really included representatives of all the regions and political factions. The council will be able to work for peace in a good way.”
Karzai has offered an olive branch to the Taleban several times before, calling on them to lay down their weapons and begin talks with the government. His overtures, however, have always been scorned by the insurgents, and the peace council initiative was also quickly rejected.
“The Taleban will not talk as long as the foreigners are present in Afghanistan and support the Afghan government,” Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mojahed said. “We demand complete withdrawal of the aggressor forces from Afghanistan and then we will start peace talks.
“The Taleban believe that the Americans and their allies hide their defeat with such actions and somehow want to make the Taleban alter their demand for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.”
Mojahed also rejected recent claims by NATO and United States army commander General David Petraeus that high-level Taleban leaders had contacted the Afghan government to discuss reconciliation.
Political expert and writer Wahid Mozhda said that the insurgents had no desire to enter into talks because they were growing steadily more powerful and were able to hurt foreign forces.
“It is impossible for [members of the peace council] to come up with a peace talks formula that will be acceptable to the opposition,” he said.
Karzai, he continued, had twin goals behind the creation of the peace jirga and subsequent council.
“First, he wants to show the public that he is a peace-loving person and, second, most the members don’t have jobs, so he wants to find something for them to do and get their approval,” he said.
Ordinary Afghans also appear sceptical about the council’s prospects, believing that too many of its members are linked with war crimes, warlordism and corruption.
Abdol Ghafar, a shopkeeper in the Sorubi district of Kabul province, said that he was not at all optimistic about the initiative because it included people who had allegedly committed crimes during the civil war.
“After seeing the names of these individuals, the opposition will further strengthen their resistance,” he said.
In any case, he continued, “the government has started peace efforts with the opposition very late. The opposition has become more powerful on a daily basis”.
Abdol Wadud, a resident of Khost province, said the negotiations bid was flawed because peace will only be achieved through dialogue between America, the Afghan government and neighbouring countries.
“I am an illiterate Afghan, but thirty years of war have taught me things and I know that this war is a war between America, Iran, Pakistan, India and some other countries,” he said. “If Karzai and America want peace, they should talk to these countries. The Taleban are led by Pakistan and Iran and Karzai is led by America and other such countries. This is an effort to deceive the people, and that is all.”
Habiborahman Ibrahimi is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kabul.