U.S.-led talks with Taliban going nowhere, report says

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 25, 2012 

KABUL, Afghanistan — A prominent international think tank has warned that U.S.-led talks with the Taliban are going nowhere and has called for the United Nations to take the lead in peace negotiations to prevent Afghanistan sliding into civil war.

In a report released Sunday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said that current negotiations were unlikely to achieve a sustainable peace because they were dominated by the U.S. and hampered by a "half-hearted and haphazard" approach by the Afghan government.

"Far from being Afghan-led, the negotiating agenda has been dominated by Washington's desire to obtain a decent interval between the planned U.S. troop drawdown and the possibility of another bloody chapter in the conflict," said the report.

The ICG said that the result thus far of international involvement in negotiations had been to embolden "spoilers" like insurgents, government officials and war profiteers, "who now recognize that the international community's most urgent priority is to exit Afghanistan with or without a settlement."

Regional player like Pakistan and Iran had also significantly hindered talks, the report said.

Candace Rondeaux, senior Afghanistan analyst with the ICG and one of the report's authors, told McClatchy that time was running out to get peace talks back on track. The last few months had seen efforts led by the U.S. to negotiate with the Taliban "faltering left and right," Rondeaux said.

The Taliban announced two weeks ago that it was suspending preliminary talks with the U.S. because of what they described as "the shaky, erratic and vague standpoint of the Americans."

"If we continue along the same path, under the same rubric, with the U.S. in the lead on negotiations and the Afghan government trailing behind, this could be extremely destabilizing for Afghanistan," said Rondeaux.

"It's not the White House that will set the agenda for the Afghan people. It has to be the Afghan people," she said.

The ICG report said the Afghan government must make greater efforts to include a range of ethnic and civil society groups in peace negotiations, and not just deal with warlords. Any negotiations must be transparent.

However, the ICG said the Karzai government was not in a good position to agree to a settlement with insurgents as it was "debilitated by internal political divisions and external pressures."

It said that political competition in Afghanistan would heat up in the run-up to the withdrawal of international combat forces at the end of 2014, and "the differing priorities and preferences of the parties to the conflict — from the Afghan government to the Taliban leadership to key regional and wider international actors — will further undermine the prospects of peace."

A U.N.-mandated mediation team was needed if a civil war was to be averted once international combat troops left Afghanistan.

"Given that we only have two years before NATO forces pull out, it is critical that there is intervention from a third party that is acceptable to the Taliban, acceptable to the other opposition groups, acceptable to the Afghan government, and to all the players that are engaged in the negotiation process," said Rondeaux.

There was little agreement among the various Afghan factions about the future constitution of the government, how power should be balanced, and the role of Islam in Afghanistan, Rondeaux added. She said such issues could not be resolved without the presence of an international guarantor like the U.N.

"It's becoming clear that NATO allies are extremely frustrated. They're impatient, they're eager to head to the exit door," said Rondeaux.

"And without that kind of leverage present, it will be very difficult to secure a lasting, sustainable deal in which all parties to the conflict can lay down their arms and arrive at some sort of measured peace," she said.

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