A tough decision is how to deal with the Taliban and involve them in the processes of peace building. Unlike Al-Qaeda, the Taliban are not viewed by the Afghan population as guests and cannot be so easily separated from society by thinking of them as an externality. Therefore, excluding them from processes would further alienate them and continue their role as spoilers. However, bringing the Taliban into the processes of state-building while increasing the claims of broad local ownership, fails to address how issues of a middle-ground could be found between the more extreme elements of Taliban policy and moderate or liberal elements of domestic civil society. The status of women and their equal rights is an example of an issue which the international community, domestic society and the Taliban may be unwilling to change their own views on, which stands in the way of greater cooperation. However, a greater understanding of misconceptions and commonality over issues needs to be explored.
While some may say that many views and practices of the Taliban make their engagement impossible, as well as undesirable. It is clear that without some sought of pragmatic engagement with at least some elements of the Taliban, the possibilities of achieving an end to the insurgency and insecurity in Afghanistan is hard to envisage on the near horizon. The policy previously taken by some governments, not to negotiate with ‘terrorists’ did little to solve misunderstandings between groups and bring about a non-violent end to conflict. A general failure that can be identified is the way that has been traditionally been seen to deal and defeat violent groups of this kind, with the use of force. Being able to disarm groups with words and not weapons is a developing realisation which often occurs when the possibility of winning against an enemy by traditional military means is cast into doubt. This is something that has been witnessed by a number of NSAGs in their struggles against conventional government forces. At first, these groups either themselves had no desire to engage with, or no interest from the government side, to negotiate for a peaceful end to the conflict. When a window of opportunity presented itself, which amongst other reasons can be the result of decline in support for a policy or path, the situation changed.
The Taliban, or other NSAGs operating within Afghanistan can be expected to witness the same window or windows (opportunity can knock more than once) to non-violent resolution of grievances. Hez-e-Islami (II) would seem to be exploring this path. A number of questions present themselves, however; whether these groups would indeed fully take hold of the opportunity that a window offers, what would happen if they fail to, and in what way can the creation of windows be increased or protected? This final question may have a lot to do with the importance of reciprocation, as any NSAG seeking to take advantage of a window of opportunity would need an equally reciprocal partner on the other side of the negotiating table. In the Afghan context, this would mean not only the government, but additional contributing elements to it’s security apparatus such as ISAF, as well as those directly engaged in hostile actions against some NSAGs, through OEF.
Another important element; the speeding up of window creation, is no doubt something, that is in the interests not only of the security forces engaged in operations against these NSAGs and wider civil society, which are often targets or pawns between the two sides of an asymmetric conflict, but the NSAGs themselves. For many NSAGs the obtainment of their goals is more important than their means to be achieved. The choice of means is often based on their likelihood of bringing about envisaged results. Many NSAGs claim, that their choice to engage in violent means for their struggle was taken because they had no other choice. This is true in justifying a continuation of actions, in so long as the opportunities for non-violent resolution through negotiations are not available or trusted to obtain desired outcomes. Provision of alternatives, and by this it is meant a non-violent path, can therefore adjust the view that is held about the legitimacy of violence, over other options.
For the windows of opportunity to present themselves, a number of factors would need to materialise. For one, the support base of one particular side needs to be in favour of a non-violent resolution to the conflict. From the non-NSAG actors this would mean a willingness to talk to these groups, which may be driven by a realisation that the conflict is unwinnable by violence-based means, but may also be grounded on an escalation in hostilities towards oneself. This hostility can come from public perception, that there is a failure in approach to the conflict. Alternatively a NSAG may find its support base questioning its approach, if failures on the path to successful goal obtainment are identified, or the tactics used are questioned. The targeting of civilians and civil infrastructure may cast doubt over claims of group’s legitimacy and justness of their case, in much the same way that similar government force’s actions would lend legitimacy to a counter NSAG’s cause.
Lets focus on the windows a bit more.