The engagement with the Taliban as ‘locals’ and the creation of windows of peace.

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. a16_19594219.jpgThe 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.

Matt Mackenzie


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Hezb-e-Islami (II) & Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) in Afghanistan.

Within Afghanistan there exist a number of groups, which can be identified as insurgency, though in respect to NATO and OEF statements they are commonly referred to as simply Taliban. This is a failing in that it ignores the diverse motives and makeup of these groups and attempts to define the conflict in Afghanistan as black and white, them and us. There are a number of groups, which have previously been identified as Taliban affiliated, such as Hezb-e-Islami (II) (Party of Islam), which has recently made it to the mainstream media through its possible shift against the Taliban. Hezb-e-Islami (II) are a Taliban-type group, in that they base elements of their legitimacy of a religious foundation (Talib of course meaning religious student/schloar), though the motives of their leader Haqquani, maybe more Realpolitik. Additionally and importantly, there does exist anti-Taliban groups, which are external to the state security structures and so thereselves are Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs). These anti-Taliban groups may be driven by pure power motives and may also seek to counter other group’s power structures, including the Kabul regimes. All in all, one can see a diverse makeup of groups in Afghanistan that may or may not have connection to the Taliban. All these group though, including the Taliban, share something in common, they are seeking to protect or project their own preferences, through the use of violent means. This analysis covers the largest groups as well as the small local village militias and would serve to highlight that Afghanistan remains a fragmented place, where multiple levels of identity and threat perception that inform where an individual chooses to place themselves within a conflict. A number of NSAGs exist in Afghanistan that have power imperatives that centre around economic motives. In this respect they may be similar to other groups, but differ in that they focus purely on financial gains, ignoring the associated social implications, such as the provision of social security nets, such as access to healthcare and education, or a preference of certain types of religious teaching and schools Therefore two forms of NSAG can be identified in Afghanistan, those looking for long-term or stabilised gains, such as the Taliban, and those looking for short-term gain (Political- & Profit NSAGs). Though both groups are illegal, the latter is commonly identified as criminal groups, in that they partake in banditry, or the opium trade and so for some authors do not fit an NSAG label at all. Though some may consider the long-term goal NSAGs as possessing a greater degree of legitimacy, some of these groups can be seemingly bought by pure financial incentives. This though is not completely correct in that power sharing proposals with finiancial tie-ins do not seemingly not impact on legitimacy, as long as overall group goals are achieved.

Hez-e-Islami (II) having recently entered in to peace talks in Afghanistan (BBC Article), is a very important step in fully stabilising the North and may impact on the Taliban’s own Pashtun pull, as Hez-e-Islami are themselves a predominately Pashtun group.

Matt Mackenzie

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US Plan to pay-off moderate Taliban is shortsighted, misguided and a poor form of SSR for Afghanistan.

Originally Published: 26th October 2009

The indication by the US (see Al Jazeera or Reuters story) that it will start using part of its budget in Afghanistan to pay-off non-core/moderate Taliban is problematic to say the least. While this may be effective in reducing in the short-term the number of Taliban that engage in armed conflict with the International (NATO ISAF) and Afghan Security forces, it may create additional security implications. While it is estimated that the number of Taliban may be as much as 17k, the number that are considered core, in that they are ideologically drive and not financially or opportunistically involved, is around only 3000-4000. Tackling this lower number is by far preferred, even though this grouping are to be considered better trained and much more driven; more willing to die for their cause. Paying off local non-core Taliban may prove effective in the short-term, in that it reduces attacks against security forces, but whether this time window will be enough to remove the core Taliban threat is unclear. If not, then the possible return of non-core Taliban to the payroll is clearly a concern. In order to prevent this greater development work needs to be done during this payroll period to ensure former-Taliban buy-in to their local environment and support its growth and development; leading to alternative employment opportunities and the eventual (safe) removal of their US sponsored payroll.

Firstly though, clarifications need to made as to how exactly this payroll plan will work, in order to show awareness and ability to tackle the various problems it will create. From a practical point-of-view one needs to employ DDR type techniques in order to ensure that those getting paid really are former-fighters and not just opportunistic bandits or individuals. Also there is the need to address the concerns that those who fought against Kabul and its international partners for so long are now being rewarded. Even leaving aside the initial practical and political concerns, the implications for the future stability of Afghanistan are something that needs most urgently need to be discussed. Part of the US plan (in light of its Iraq success’) is to get these former fights to form local security forces in order to provide local protection against militias. Essentially the US is proposing an SSR programme, which bypasses any DDR work (beyond the initial registration phase). The idea that local villages create local militias to protect against other local militias will undermine not only the central authority of Kabul, but the local and national Afghan Police, as well as the Afghan National Army.

While this may have functioned within Iraq, its long-term impacts are as yet unclear. There also exist a number of differences between the two states. Iraq has had a central authority and security forces that reach out across the land (and for a long time), establishing a degree of legitimate authority, meaning they maybe in a better position not only to read the local security situation, but effectively deal with it. Also, Iraq, while it does contain ethnic diversity, is not the patchwork of tribal and ethnic division that Afghanistan is. By creating a way in which individuals and groups can protect their villages and group interests through the creation and support of NSAGs, fails to address not only what and who this new militias will see as a threat, but how they are to be engaged with in terms of authority and legitimacy. The creation of alternative power & security structures will no doubt lead to new tension and possible conflict. One of the longest running security threats in Afghanistan is not only ethnic tensions, but the creation of new warlords, which may seek to destabilise the country and seize power. This plan assists these threats.

Paying an enemy put down his weapon is a shortsighted and misguided solution, driven purely by a need to produce quick (political) results. A greater degree of job creation and development work needs to be done in order to attract non-core Taliban away from the insurgency, and while some may argue that this is impossible due to the security-rich risk environment of Afghanistan, a misguided SSR programme is not going to help.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the Italian Military operation in Afghanistan which, as part of it ISAF mission under NATO, has, in the past few weeks, been criticised for a similar payoff approach in its area of responsibility within Afghanistan. Its actions have been blamed for the increased attacks and fatalities against French soldiers, which took over the Italian region, and were unaware of the payments. Lessons should be learned from this episode. In short, you can’t keep paying a bully forever.

Matt Mackenzie

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Making Peace Sexy


This blog is both a sounding board for my own thoughts, a test bed for ideas and avenues of interest and also a way to stop my brain from melting to mush.

I am a postgraduate of Peace & Security Policy, with a background in development and a future in who know what. I am interests in issues of security, development, institutional security actors and international energy security. I am also very interested in the development and security situation in Afghanistan, particularly aspects relating to the transformation of NATO as a security to development actor.

The focus of this blog will therefore be on the above and more generally on issues of peace, security & conflict. Please feel free to add context, critic and links to stories/articles of interest.

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