Peace Through Reconciliation in Afghanistan

NEW YORK – It may or may not be coincidental, but as US President Barack Obama’s military offensive in Afghanistan gets underway, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has at long last embarked on a serious effort at national reconciliation. The prime focus of this process is to find some means to reintegrate at least parts of the Taliban into society and into productive activities. In order to qualify for reintegration, members of the Taliban will need to lay down their weapons, renounce their connection with Al Qaeda, and agree to respect Afghan laws.

This policy change is a necessary parallel to the military action now taking place. It is also a belated recognition that the “development as usual” policies followed in Afghanistan up to now have failed. Indeed, as has been painfully demonstrated, the old policies were never going to be enough to galvanize Afghan public support, particularly for a new military “surge.”

Eight years ago, Afghanistan embarked on four distinct transitions: a security transition away from violence and insecurity; a political transition toward a society based on participatory government and the rule of law; a social transition from tribal and ethnic confrontations toward national reconciliation; and an economic transition to transform a war-torn and unstable economy into a viable one in which people can make a decent and legal living.

Because economic reconstruction takes place amid this multi-pronged transition, what has been happening in Afghanistan is fundamentally different from normal development processes. The current Afghan situation reflects the failure until now to make national reconciliation – rather than optimal development policies – the bedrock priority of the government and the international community.