Friday, August 10, 2007

The only way to stability

Aug.10, 2007
The only way for stability

THE meeting of tribal leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan under way in Kabul is perhaps the best chance to stabilise Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent Taliban who are operating from near the border between the two countries. No doubt, the Taliban, who have become a source of perennial headache for the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the US-led Western coalition present in Afghanistan, have support from the tribes on both sides of the border and hence the significance of the jirga.
It is a tradition for centuries that the region has relied on jirgas among tribes to settle problems, but the Kabul forum marks the first time that neighbouring tribal elders have come together for talks on the growing militant violence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
However, any effort to stabilise Afghanistan has to have as its central pillar the acceptance of the fact that the Taliban are as Afghan as anyone else. There is no prospect of any success for any effort in Afghanistan while the Taliban are kept out.
The Taliban might have unwittingly posed themselves as models for other militant groups elsewhere, but the Afghan group's agenda had always been and remains Afghanistan specific. Taliban-linked militant actions in Pakistan were and are directly linked to the crisis in Afghanistan and not the result of the Taliban trying to export their brand of militancy abroad.
The growth of pro-Taliban sympathies in the tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border has to do with mainly the history of neglect, denial, ignorance and lack of development of the region and the group's emergence as a symbol of rebellion in the 1990s.
There has alwasy been a sense of social injustice felt by the residents of the region over the centuries. The rulers in power centres in the area could not be bothered to look into the way of life of people in the area. Even with the creation of Afghanistan and Pakistan last century as they exist today, there was little effort to uplift the lot of the tribes in the border area.. Whatever effort that was exerted was thwarted by the tribal leaders who tried dictate their terms.
In the process, resentment and bitterness grew among the tribes towards whoever was in power and they became rebellious by nature.
Involving the tribes in the exercise of stabilising Afghanistan has hopefully started with the jirga in Kabul.
Political imperatives might be involved in the absence of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at the conference, but it need not be seen as a major blow to the effort because no overnight breakthroughs are expected, particularly that some of the important tribal leaders are also absent.
A good start has been given, but it would be counterproductive for anyone to pin all hopes on mobilising the tribes against the Taliban and succeeding in the effort. The exercise should not be aimed at intensifying the military fight against the Taliban but to deal with the group with a view to bringing them into mainstream politics. It is no easy mission, and compromises would have to made by all sides, but that is the only way for stability in Afghanistan and the border region.