Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In Today's Post: Disaster Looms In Backroom Taliban 'Reconciliation' Pact, Says Abdullah

KABUL - In a wide-ranging conversation at his headquarters here yesterday, Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's main opposition leader, warned of a complete collapse of the country if President Hamid Karzai does an end-run around Afghanistan's embryonic democracy and strikes a power-sharing deal with the Taliban.

I report the substance of Abdullah's warnings in today's National Post. What follows is some further background.

When Abdullah talks about a scenario far worse than the turmoil that was narrowly averted by the Canadian-led Elections Complaints Commission last year, he's not kidding.

“This is the key,” he said. “It’s not just as a democracy, a pluralistic democracy that Canada would like to see our country benefit from as a value, a human value. We cannot survive without it. If we don’t have the least political assurances, the safeguards, then what is the choice for me, for example, as a person? Forget about elections candidates and so on. How can I fight for my rights? Which way? The Taliban way? Violence is the only option left if you don’t have other options.”

For now, Abdullah is counting on the world community to hold Karzai accountable and he's putting his sorely-strained faith in the rickety beginnings of Afghanistan's democracy, building a broad-based political party with a focus on political accountability, transparency and fully free elections.

An informal coalition of women’s rights activists, secularists and democrats has also declared its unequivocal opposition to Karzai’s Taliban-talks plans. But the country’s ethnic Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks also remember only too well the depredations of the Taliban, which is deeply rooted in the same rural Pashtun culture that provides Karzai with his most loyal supporters. “With these latest talks about negotiating with the Taliban, ethnicity is now the most divisive issue in Afghanistan,” Niamatullah Ibrahimi, research officer with the Crisis States Research Center here, told me.

Afghanistan’s constitutionally-recognized Parliament, known as the Loya Jirga, has yet to be consulted about Karzai’s plans. “At least this should be shared with the Parliament, but we hear about these things from the BBC world news, like you do,” said Sabrina Saqib, an outspoken young Afghan MP.

Quite apart from Karzai's ambiguous and ill-defined Taliban reconciliation scheme, a proposed Taliban “trust fund” that purports to be about wooing low-level Taliban fighters with promises of money and land (the notion has won at least lukewarm support among the Americans, the British, and the French) is similarly reckless, Abdullah said. Even if it was a good idea, the Karzai regime is too corrupt to be trusted with it: “The Taliban are fighting the people and killing the people and committing those atrocities, and now they are being bribed.”

It's an elaborate masquerade, Abdullah said. “The government is shifting the whole focus to how we should bring the Taliban back. This is very dangerous.” Karzai’s broad hints about power-sharing will only give the Taliban more reason to simply wait it out while the world’s rich countries prepare to retreat. “The Taliban will not be willing to come in with the hypothetical situations of giving them ministries and governors and so on. They don’t want to be part of the political process. They want to destroy it and replace it with their own."

Karzai insists that “reconciliation” benefits will be made available only to insurgents who accept the Afghan constitution and renounce Al Qaida. He says his new plan requires about $500 million in foreign contributions and a key mediating role by the Saudi royal family. Abdullah said he would support Karzai’s negotiation efforts if they were based on a strict insistence that the Taliban make the first move by renouncing violence and accepting Afghan law. “But the government of Afghanistan is causing confusion among the people of Afghanistan, and among its own friends. They’ve created this chaos, this fuss about it. What is it? Can anyone define it? For millions of people this is just a puzzle. What is it?

". . . All this talk about reconciliation is very tempting for the international community, but this is a charade. Who is talking about fighting corruption? Everybody is talking about reconciliation, and it doesn’t have a foundation, it doesn’t have a basis. If you pay bribes to people through the same corrupt system, then all you’re left with is corruption.”


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