Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Afghanistan Peace Talks in Context

As recently brought up in discussion, one concern with news media is that it often fails to report on the context of a story. This neglected information may be vital for media consumers to develop a coherent understanding of issues that could have significant implications for the American people (i.e. the Afghanistan War). For this project, I sought to find an article that discusses current circumstances in Afghanistan, as well provides a historical context for these events. I found such an article by the Associate Press on

The article, “Karzai Meets Delegation from Taliban-Linked Group,” discusses preliminary talks of peace negotiations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Taliban and other insurgent group leaders. The main meeting prompting this article took place on Monday morning, when Karzai met with leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of the Hizb-i-Islami insurgent movement, the second biggest militant group in the country after the Taliban.

Though the two insurgent groups have many similar aims and have previously been allied, the Hizb-i-Islami is actually less linked to the Taliban than the title of the article may imply, as the two groups have recently opposed each other in addition to Afghan forces. The article describes violent conflicts taking place earlier this month between the Hizb-i-Islami, whose fighters are greatly concentrated in the east and north of Afghanistan, and the Taliban, which has led the insurgency in the south. Hizb-i-Islami militiamen were said to have fought the Taliban “with rocket-propelled granades and heavy machine guns” in the Baghlan province, eventually leading dozens of Hizb-i-Islami fighters to join government forces. While insurgent groups are generally thought of as only fighting against the ruling government, it is interesting that this article highlights the additional conflicts taking place between groups and the implications these may have.

Karzai’s meeting with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar covered a 15-point delegation proposed by the Hizb-i-Islami, under which all foreign troops would have to leave Afghanistan within the six months following July and new government elections would need to be held within a year. Although Karzai has not yet agreed to any of the conditions of this proposal, he is planning a “peace jirga,” or assembly, extended to a number of insurgent groups for the end of April. This effort is referred to as “a step towards national reconciliation” and as laying “the groundwork for a peace initiative,” though many feel a concrete agreement is still a long way off.

The significance of Monday’s meeting is also realized in this article through the background information it provides about Hekmatyar, a former Afghan prime minister and current leader of Hizb-i-Islami. The article explains how Hekmatyar was “a major recipient of U.S. military aid” during the war against the Soviets in the 1980s but lost support from Washington because of “his role in the fighting among “mujahideen factions” which killed more than 25,000 civilians in the early 1990s. The article continues to describe how Hekmatyar was declared a “global terrorist” by the U.S. government in 2003 because he was said to have “participated in and supported terror acts committed by al-Qaida and the Taliban.” This contextual information is vital because it is predicted to have major implications regarding the willingness of the U.S. to participate in these peace proposals.

Regarding the delegation’s hope to also discuss agreements with Taliban leaders, the U.S. Embassy said that “there would be no meetings with U.S. officials.” This lack of willingness to negotiate demonstrates the military-based approach that the U.S. has maintained towards addressing the conflicts that plague the stability and security of Afghanistan.

Last month, news reports confirming the arrest of the prominent Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, conveyed a reassuring message of progress made by U.S. military efforts and made the idea of “success” in Afghanistan more tangible to many Americans. In a New York Times article, this arrest was even describes as “a hugely successful intelligence-gathering effort.”

According to the recent NPR article, however, President Karzai’s view of this arrest was quite the opposite because the government had been holding “secret talks with the Taliban's No. 2 when he was captured in Pakistan.” In addition to covert conversations by the Afghan government, “U.N. officials had also been in discussions with senior Taliban officials since last year, but the arrests of Mullah Baradar and other senior Taliban figures halted the dialogue.”

Similar to how the insurgent groups are described as working against each other above, this shows how conflicting efforts between the Afghan and U.S. government are also hindering the overall progress of their joint mission for peace. In an article from the BBC, which also describes the current negotiation process between the Afghan government and insurgent groups, the journalist explains that “there is a growing recognition, both within Afghanistan and from its foreign partners, that insurgents have to be part of any peace settlement and that military operations alone will not be enough to bring peace to the country.” Though it may be difficult for the U.S. to accept the inclusion of insurgent groups as a strategy to achieve peace given their history with these groups, I think it is important that Washington consider these negotiations as they may be a potential path to "success" in Afghanistan.

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