Talking to the Enemy

by Joshua Foust on 4/3/2008

Let’s talk political parties. Last year, Kabul was abuzz at the creation of the United National Front. It was, essentially, a motley collection of right-wing and left-wing politicians and former (and current) warlords. In other words, a big old party that really tough to quantify (their platform, which, like most political platforms is filled with pretty nothings, is here). But the existence of this omnibus party, which amounts to old powers wanting their power to be new again, is deeply worrisome for Afghanistan’s future.

Local press described the UNF in various unflattering ways:

A number of jihadi leaders and commanders of former jihadi parties, communist party activists and Royalists have agreed on the establishment of a political organization called the National Front that will soon declare its existence…

Some analysts think that the objective of the National Front is to pressure Mr. Karzai’s government to take more posts for National Front members. In the past, Mr. Karzai’s government was accused of kicking jihadi figures out of the government and they have said that Mr. Karzai has always tried to leave jihadi leaders out.

According to analysts, another objective of the National Front is to open a defensive front against the accusations of human rights institutions, which accused some of them of carrying out war crimes. Now, however, most of them have been excused from legal prosecution for their crimes that they committed before the formation of the interim administration.

—Published in Fajer-e Omid on 17 March 07

The formation of other fronts, of course, helps the country move forward democratically, to become more independent and to move away from opportunism, tribalism, factionalism, and other social problems. However, we should not forget that Afghanistan sustained numerous losses inflicted by all these (tribalism and others), and that it is unable to bear these any longer.

The result of all this can be identified as vagrancy, agony, adversity, destruction and other types of difficulties in society at the moment. Therefore, it is high time that political groups should steer their proposals away from tribal and linguistic fanaticism, so that they can help Afghanistan get rid of the current tribal factionalism.

They also need to invest more to observe what the Afghan government, constitution, and legislation are ordering them to do, since all these can make for a better reconstruction, rehabilitation, improvement and development here in Afghanistan.

—Published in Anis on 17 June 07

From a political point of view, Mr. Karzai also faces opposition in political circles. The formation of the United National Front – out of some cabinet members and the first vice-president and some of his former allies – has now reached the point that any day it could create a large crisis. Currently, a large number of jihadi leaders, communists and Taliban members have gathered together in the UNF to profit from bringing pressures onto the government. Right now, Mr. Karzai is depressed by the surroundings of the presidential palace and has not been able to take necessary measures to decrease these tensions.

—Published in Bahaar on 17 June 07

The fact that the UNF presented this [recent] plan to the government means that once again they want to impose their colleagues and their own men into the government, and to strengthen their hawks in government, because the formation of such a council – which contradicts the country’s constitution – does not have any other purpose. One of the most astonishing facts is that the UNF has presented itself as opposition to the government, while at the same time it seeks to impose its influence on the government. We should ask whether it makes any sense that those doing the opposing are also the first and second people in the government. The reason we ask this question now is that a large number of UNF members are working from within the government. The government has failed, so one of the reasons must be their own activities within the government.

—Published in Killid on 23 June 07

Two years ago, a well-known opposition member of the government spoke for the first time about negotiations with the Taliban in a specific framework, as an official proposal.

It was said that some of the parties negotiated with the Taliban and government opponents behind the scenes.

Analysts believe that by negotiating with the Taliban, some factions aim to put pressure on the government in order to convince it to grant political privileges to them.

Recently, the United National Front (UNF) has offered a strategy of negotiation with the Taliban and government opponents without determining the way negotiations would be carried out.

—Published in Rasana on Saturday the 30. of June 07

All quotes are courtesy the brilliant, and much-missed, Afghanwire, which provided English translations of local newspapers and magazines. But that last story is telling—the editors clearly don’t like the idea of negotiation with the Taliban, and felt the opposition (in this case the UNF’s) decision to talk was deeply misguided. Seems they were on to something:

The country’s most powerful opposition group announced last week that they have been engaging in peace talks with the Taliban. The move signals both the growing divisions within the Afghan government and the increasing possibility that elements of the insurgent group could be drawn into the political process, say analysts…

Representatives of the United National Front – an assemblage of ministers, members of parliament, and warlords led by former Northern Alliance commanders – say they have held secret talks with the Taliban for at least five months.

That article has a lot more context, and is worth reading in full. But this kind of thing Matt Dupee was warning about last year when he cautioned that one of the UNF’s roles would be to give “the remaining anti-Taliban commanders some legitimacy, if not leverage, to deal with the eventuality of advancing Taliban forces.” An even higher likelihood, he argued, “is that a pre-negotiation ceasefire with the Taliban could take place before the collapse and essentially concede the southern provinces to the Taliban. In such a deal, analysts predict the UNF would likely carve out their respected fiefdoms; reinstalling the former warlords as governors and possibly leave a Panjshiri government apparatus led by Qanuni and Rabbani in Kabul.”

That is bad news, even if the idea of Rabbani or any of his cronies back in the Bala Hissar (so to speak) is laughable. I wonder which analysts conjectured that kind of alternate future? Anyway, if the reports of UNF’s negotiations with the Taliban—right down to breaking the traditional rule that negotiations and amnesty only come after a voluntary disarmament—are true, then that spells truly bad news for Afghanistan.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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