On March 23, a high-powered task force convened by the Century Foundation released the results of a months-long study called ‘Afghanistan: Negotiating Peace,’ which called for immediate efforts to start a dialogue among all belligerents in Afghanistan, including the Taliban. Significantly, Gen. Lute took part in a dinner held in Washington to announce the release of the report, and he told me that although he didn’t agree with everything in it, he and the White House had cooperated with the taskforce throughout its work.
To call the taskforce high-powered is an understatement. Its co-chairs are Lakhdar Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria who twice served in a crucial United Nations role in dealing with Afghanistan, and Thomas Pickering, a former US. ambassador to Russia, India, and the United Nations. Among the members of the task force are the former foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey, former senior diplomats from China and Japan, and a number of key former US officials, including James Dobbins, who was the US representative at the Bonn conference that put together the Afghan government after the fall of the Taliban.
They concluded that the war has reached a stalemate, and that neither side can achieve a military victory. ‘Everybody says, there is no military solution,’ Brahimi told me. ‘Fine. What is the non-military solution? I don’t think enough has been done to find out.’ Totry to find out, Brahimi and the other taskforce members propose appointing a facilitator, backed by the United Nations, to begin making contacts with all sides in the conflict, especially the Taliban leaders in the Quetta Shura, about peace talks.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
‘While some counsel holding back from negotiations until military momentum is clearly and decisively in their favour, we believe that the best moment to start a political process toward reconciliation is now,’ the report says.
To help get talks going, the taskforce calls for a series of confidence-building measures by the international community, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, and the insurgents. Among those measures would be the de-listing of Taliban members from the UN sanctions list, so they can travel and meet with diplomats; the creation of an office for the Taliban outside Afghanistan and Pakistan, perhaps in Turkey, with guarantees of safe passage for Taliban leaders to travel back and forth; a ceasefire, or a series of local ceasefires; and an end to the lethal night raids by US Special Forces that have killed hundreds of Taliban leaders and commanders and to the Taliban’s campaign of murdering local officials. ‘In the case of ISAF, this could involve an end to targeting of mid-level commanders, including shadow governors, and for insurgents an end to attacks on ISAF forces with improvised explosive devices and targeting of Afghan government officials and their local supporters,’ the report says.