Cablegate: Afghans Nervously Eye Reconciliation Talks

DE RUEHBUL #2963/01 3140401
P 090401Z NOV 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. KABUL 2782
B. KABUL 2746

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Afghan political leaders and ordinary
citizens are following reports of reconciliation talks with
Taliban representatives with great interest and, in many
cases, significant trepidation. A number of individuals who
assume USG involvement, have approached us at many levels to
express their concern over what Taliban involvement in the
government would mean for human rights, women's rights, and
Afghan society at large. Independent media coverage of the
reconciliation talks has been skeptical, with many
commentators doubting the Taliban would ever support the
Constitution and renounce violence, although pro-government
papers have been more optimistic. We have told our contacts
the US is not involved in any talks with the Taliban and
would only support reconciliation that is Afghan-led,
respects the Afghan Constitution, promotes peace, does not
involve ceding territory to the Taliban or other insurgent
forces, and does not include persons linked to al Qaeda.
Still, the perception remains among many Afghans that the US
is a lead player in a process that may result in the return
of at least some extremist leaders (and their policies) to
Afghan society.

Growing Concerns Over a Taliban Return

2. (SBU) Following reports of talks between GIRoA and
Taliban representatives in Saudi Arabia in early October,
Afghan politicians, students, and journalists approached us
to express their nervousness at what reconciliation would
mean for Afghan society. Most Afghans assume USG involvement
in the talks and shared their concerns with us in hopes of
ensuring more extreme aspects of Taliban governance would not
be welcomed into a future Afghan government.

3. (SBU) Politicians commenting on the talks included
non-Pashtuns threatened by a Karzai-Taliban alliance,
Pashtuns who felt they could serve as better emissaries than
Karzai's chosen representatives, and moderates worried about
consequences for human rights under a government that could
include Taliban members. With rumors circulating that a
second round of talks in Saudi Arabia is likely and other
low-level efforts materializing elsewhere (reftels), those
outside the Karzai administration have increased the number
of comments to us in an effort to shape any negotiations.

4. (SBU) Upper House MP Rida Azimi (Kabul, Tajik), a
former journalist and the first female anchor to appear on
Afghan television following the fall of the Taliban,
emotionally described her prior experience as a woman living
under Taliban rule, worrying that reconciliation would pave
the way for a return of the Taliban's anti-women policies.
If the Taliban joined the government, Azimi said she and
other female politicians would be forced out of public life,
while those with the resources would leave Afghanistan at the
first sign of Taliban inclusion in the government. "I
survived them once, but I just can't do it again," she told
us, with tears brimming in her eyes. "I am tired and cannot
fight them any longer. They are not people who share power,
they will take and take from us until they have their way
with everything."

5. (SBU) Other women MPs have expressed similar trepidation
at GIRoA contact with Taliban representatives. Fatima Aziz
(Kunduz, Tajik) said the lack of women involved in the
reconciliation process showed the government was overlooking
women's concerns about the Taliban's policies. Aziz, a
medical doctor, told us a Taliban official had once barged
into an operating room demanding to know why she was not
wearing a burqa. With her hands occupied with the surgery
she was leading, she yelled at him to leave the room, telling
him she had better things to be doing, such as saving a man's
life, than to listen to him. She said she has no desire to
return to those times.

6. (SBU) Lower House Deputy Speaker Amanullah Payman
(Badakhshan, Tajik) appealed for a better explanation from
Karzai and the international community on what the process
and goals were for the reconciliation talks. Payman said
many non-Pashtun leaders already suspicious of Karzai's
motives in placing more Pashtuns in high-ranking government
positions feared they were being sold out by the
international community for the sake of ending the conflict
with Taliban insurgents. Payman said reconciliation with the
Taliban or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar risked driving away groups now

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part of the government and would not solve the overall
security challenges facing the country. Moreover, he added
the Taliban would never respect the Constitution nor cut ties
with al Qaeda, and wondered why international allies were
"wasting their time" with such efforts.

7. (U) At a recent visit to Kabul University, political
science and law students peppered PolOff with questions
related to what they assumed was USG involvement in
reconciliation talks. Students said they felt the talks were
a sign of abandonment by the US and other ISAF countries.
One student said the international community had driven the
Taliban from power, but now was seeking to bring them back in
-- a sign the US must be reconsidering its support for
democracy and human rights in Afghanistan. Another student
said US support for Taliban reconciliation would send the
message that the international community was more focused on
ending its "failed" mission in Afghanistan quickly than on
protecting Afghans from terrorism and repressive governments.

8. (SBU) At a meeting of the National Coalition for Dialogue
with Tribes of Afghanistan, a variety of tribal elders
expressed their concerns that negotiating with the Taliban
would only give them legitimacy. They argued Saudi
reconciliation talks could not work because talks would be
sponsored by one of only three countries to have recognized
the Taliban and included the participation of Pakistan's
Nawaz Sharif (viewed unfavorably by many Afghans) and many
non-Afghan Taliban. Other tribal elders expressed similar
pessimism on reconciliation, saying the fighting would not
end until Pakistan stopped fueling the conflict. Other
elders have said they would support reconciliation as long as
anti-Afghan forces agree to accept the Constitution and
respect human rights at a minimum. Most do not think Taliban
leaders will agree to these conditions.

A More Positive, But Cautious, View

9. (U) Commentators in the independent press have viewed
the reconciliation talks skeptically, saying the Taliban
would be a dishonest negotiating partner. In the
anti-government Arman-e-Meli daily paper, a writer said the
Taliban cannot be negotiated with because they are not a
coherent political-military group, but a loose confederation
of entities. The paper criticized Karzai for using the issue
for political leverage in an election season. Cheragh,
another independent paper, also raised doubt about the
seriousness of the talks, pointing out Foreign Minister
Spanta was disengaged from the process and that the recent
up-tick in Taliban attacks shows the insurgents have no
interest in peace and reconciliation. Pro-government media
has had a more optimistic outlook, with both Weesa Daily and
Erada Daily noting the positive role of Saudi Arabia in the
talks. Erada also highlighted local efforts to invite
Taliban representatives to jirgas in Farah and Nangarhar
provinces. Another pro-government paper, Islah Daily, said
the best way to restore security is by talking with the

10. (SBU) Upper House Deputy Speaker Hamed Gailani (Paktia,
Pashtun) said he was supportive of reconciliation efforts,
but doubted the meetings in Saudi Arabia would lead to much
progress, especially since Karzai had not invited him or his
father, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, to participate. The Gailani
family, leaders in the Qadiriyya Sufi religious order and
close to the former king, maintains significant influence in
some areas of Afghan society, particularly in the eastern
border provinces. Hamed Gailani said the current talks,
while not serious, opened the door for future efforts. He
added that in future talks, the Gailani family could use its
influence to bring senior Taliban and HIG leaders to the

11. (SBU) One Afghan political party loyal to Karzai has
taken steps to address some concerns about the reconciliation
process. The Republican Party, headed by Karzai's chief of
policy Sebghatullah Sanjar, held its party conference Nov. 1,
where nearly every speaker touched on the reconciliation
issue from a cautious, but supportive, perspective. Sanjar
and other speakers said reconciliation with the Taliban and
other insurgent groups was an acceptable path to peace, but
such talks should only be held with groups or individuals who
respect the Constitution. With the party's chairman employed
in the Palace, it is reasonable to assume such language was
vetted by Karzai himself before being presented for public

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Perception Does Not Match Reality

12. (SBU) In this case, perception does not match reality --
we have repeatedly told our contacts we are not involved in
the Saudi Arabia process, adding that any reconciliation
process must be Afghan-led, respect the Constitution, disarm
insurgents, and adhere to the authority of the central
government (i.e., no territory set aside for insurgent groups
to administer). The specter of a return of the Taliban has
stoked fears among many Afghans and is a useful reminder that
not everyone shares international partners' near boundless
enthusiasm for reconciliation, nor do all Afghans necessarily
share the conviction that a "political solution" is the best
way to end the conflict here.


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