"Reintegration" and "reconciliation" are two buzzwords that are driving stabilization efforts in Afghanistan these days. But the terms mean different things to different stakeholders in the process.
"Reintegration" denotes the laying down of arms by rank-and-file Taliban militants in exchange for guarantees of safety, immunity and employment. It rests on the rationale that many Taliban grunts are motivated not by ideological or theological factors, but are instead driven to fight by economic necessity, i.e. poverty. According to Mohammed Masoom Stanakzai, an Afghan presidential advisor and vice chairman of the Disarmament and Reintegration Commission, the reintegration process must address three issues: guaranteeing the security of those Taliban elements who lay down their arms; providing them with economic livelihoods; and ensuring they do not rejoin the insurgency.
"Reconciliation," meanwhile, refers to plans to hold talks with insurgent leaders - or elements driven by ideological motives -- with the aim of trying to reach a political settlement that could put an end to the fighting.
Newly appointed Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool (formerly the national security adviser) claimed on February 1 that the international community had, for the first time, backed Kabul's vision, which includes both political reconciliation and reintegration components.
But some observers suggest Rasool may have been jumping the gun with his assessment. It is true that the reintegration concept enjoys broad international support, but the same cannot be said for President Hamid Karzai's notion of reconciliation, which he sketched at a January international conference in London. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav012910.shtml
Despite general agreement on the need for some sort of political reconciliation at some point, there is still no consensus on many aspects of a process to find a political settlement. At a security meeting in Munich on February 7, Richard Holbrooke, the Obama Administration's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the United State would not speak directly with Taliban representatives at this time, but he did not dismiss the Afghan government's efforts to reach out to militant leaders who have no affiliation with the al Qaeda terrorist organization.
Western leaders have referred frequently to the need for an "Afghan-led" reconciliation process. But their calls have concealed an inability to agree on the process' basic parameters. For several years, Karzai has issued calls to all insurgents and their leaders to "return home," naming specifically Mullah Mohammed Omar. Yet the Taliban supremo remains outside the pale of potential negotiating partners for the US government.
The diverging views of the US and Afghan governments were on display at the London conference. There, Karzai was touting his plan to create a "National Council for Peace, Reconciliation and Reintegration." Western leaders, meanwhile, pledged $140 million to an Afghan-led "Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund" that conspicuously avoided initiatives aimed at promoting reconciliation.
Even the reintegration initiative is fragmented. The United States, for example, insists on forming its own parallel Taliban-reintegration fund to be administered by the Defense Department, via American commanders in the field. This program, dubbed the Commanders' Emergency Response Fund, could potentially complicate Afghan reintegration efforts, especially through duplication of effort.
At his February 1 news conference, Rasool tried to play down tactical differences between the Afghan government and the international community. He maintained that the peace process could unfold in two stages: reintegration could be pursued vigorously, while the second step, the process of talking to the Taliban leadership, could proceed cautiously, in close consultation with the international community.
A central element of Karzai's reconciliation plan is the convening of a grand peace jirga, or tribal council. Such a concept appears to be flawed, however, in that it assumes that the Taliban movement has a well-developed, top-down command & control structure in place. Scholars and political analysts doubt that the Taliban is so unified. It is a broad movement incorporating bands of militants with disparate agendas, they add. The de-centralized nature of the Taliban leadership makes it difficult to engage the movement, as any representatives that attend discussions would have difficulty making the claim that they speak for all militant elements.
Beyond the engagement question, the Afghan government must address some significant structural issues before the stabilization process can expect to bear fruit. Among the big-picture notions that Afghan leaders must clarify are; what values will define a post-war Afghan state?
Afghan women's rights advocates in particular are worried about the possible implications of reconciliation efforts. Many believe that the Karzai administration would be willing to curtail women's rights in order to placate ultra-traditionalist Taliban leaders. To alleviate this concern, any debate about the Afghan government's potential negotiating partners should be accompanied by discussion about what kind of government might reconciliation efforts produce.
Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul. She has reported on the South Asian region for the past 19 years.