Experience shows that peace cannot be enforced from outside in Afghanistan, warns Malek Sitez. The Western allies need to start respecting the rule of law, seeing Islam as part of the solution and building a consensus in the country.
Human rights activists are supposed to support peace. But as far as Afghanistan is concerned I’m against President Karzai’s current peace plan. It’s certainly not because I don’t want peace in my country, and it’s not because I’m unaware of what’s happening on the ground - I travel regularly throughout Afghanistan - it’s just that this current peace process is misconceived from the start.
For one thing, how can you sue for peace while the Western allies are fighting a major campaign against the Taliban in Helmand? How can you reach out to your enemy with one hand and threaten them with the other? And, secondly, why did President Karzai appoint someone like General Abdul Rashid Dostum - who is notorious for carrying out a massacre of Taliban soldiers in Northern Afghanistan - as chief military commander of the Afghan Army?
But my main disagreement with the current plan lies elsewhere. For peace to work you must have a good balance between national and international actors and President Karzai’s efforts to reach out to the Taliban, illustrated by the recent visit to Saudi Arabia, suffer from a fundamental lack of legitimacy.
Alternatives to Current Peace Moves
So what are the alternatives? First, I suggest that some sort of peace dialogue is organised to try and create a national consensus. For this to work, we also need a thorough analysis of what has become a multifarious – and increasingly complex - conflict. What exactly is the Taliban for instance? Is it a political movement, an armed guerrilla force, a drugs cartel? What are the differences between the Pakistan and Afghan Taliban and how do the Saudis and Iranians fit into the equation?
We must learn from the mistakes of the Balkan peace agreement, when peace was enforced from outside. This means too that the international community must take responsibility for – and uphold - the conventions they claim to be fighting for. Clandestine prisons, suspects being held without trial, the killing of innocent civilians in Nato attacks can hardly be described as activities that comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention. Each violation is a further blow to the reputation of the international community in the eyes of ordinary Afghanis, hampering our ability to act as a neutral broker.
Ideally, we should be utilising the UN peace-building system, but because there is a lack of cohesion between UN strategies and the US strategy this is currently impossible. That lack of harmony has to be dealt with before the fundaments are in place for a sustainable peace process.
Religion, Human Rights and Rule of Law
Another crucial factor is religion. Instead of constantly looking on Islam as a problem we should exploit its potential for peace. We must seek out the leaders of moderate schools of Islam – both Shia and Sunni – and secure their support. Peace and justice are fundamental goals in Islam and we must not be blinded by a small minority of extremists.
Along with Islam we must ensure respect for human rights. Without this we cannot hope to create a sustainable peace. Human rights should be incorporated in the school curriculum, and we should be helping adults too to understand their basic rights.
Coupled to this is respect for the rule of law, which entails a greater focus on the Afghan police rather than the military. If we don’t there is a risk that the army will become too powerful and a military dictatorship may emerge. And we cannot avoid the tricky question of how to make war criminals accountable. Without this it will be impossible to achieve trust in the country’s institutions.
Clearly, these suggestions are more complex than simply making peace with the Taliban or imposing a military solution. But without the support and trust of the Afghan people, I fear that the result of President Karzai’s current efforts will be nothing more than a short-term ceasefire and not the lasting peace that so many – including myself – urgently desire.
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