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Post-2014 scenarios, Taliban dialogue

February 8, 2013

By Tim Foxley

Summary: Two questions for consideration.  Is northern Afghanistan’s secession a plausible consequence, post-2014?  Can we get a sense of what “behind the scenes” Afghan government dialogue with the Taliban might look like by studying at the way northern power-brokers ally, trade and engage in dialogue in the run-up to the Afghan elections?

Afghan map, old style, zoom inA couple of further points to my (or rather the AAN’s) piece about some northern Afghan ethnic leaders coming together in yet one more non-permanent permutation.  We can ponder the motives for these gatherings and I am sure the intention is to form some kind of powerbase from which to contest the election in 2014.  But, given the levels of uncertainty surrounding Afghanistan’s prospects after 2014, where could these sort of alliances ultimately go?

In the context of possible scenarios for Afghanistan after 2014, there is a lot of discourse and debate concerning the risks of civil war.  I came across an interesting piece written by the cultural and political historian, Thomas Barfield, in late 2011.  He proposed the following idea:

“At the moment, non-Pashtun Afghans fear that Karzai will strike a deal with the Pushtun Taliban at their expense…Instead of fighting another bloody civil war, as Afghanistan’s non-Pashtuns did on the 1990s, they might instead abandon the unitary state and secede, leaving the Taliban to struggle for power with other Pashtun factions in the south and east.  Such a scenario would inevitably destabilise Pakistan’s Pashtun-majority regions, making the vast, ungoverned territories that border Afghanistan even more anarchic and therefore fertile ground for various terrorist groups.”

I have no particular answer to this as yet, it is just an idea I am mulling over.  My other thought, as I consider what may or may not be happening in terms of dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, is that maybe this kind of northern Afghan political deal-making style shows us what format we can expect in private as insurgency talks to government?  In other words, can we learn something from observing the way Afghan power-brokers negotiate deals more or less in the open and draw conclusions about what might be going on in more sensitive deals “behind the scenes”?

In terms of Taliban to government talks, this might suggest a few key power-brokers conducting deals with little consideration for the Afghan population and a lot of consideration for personal and/or factional gain (ministries, prestige, money, power….).  Is this what we can expect?

Anyone got any thoughts on these thoughts?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2013 2:09 pm

    Given there is some cultural and/or ethnic affinity between Northern Afghans and Iranians, do you foresee any dynamic playing out between them in a possible Norrh/South split in Afghanistan?

  2. February 15, 2013 10:30 am

    Ron, hi and apologies for my lateness. You are right of course, there are many historic, linguistic and cultural ties. And Iran has some quite particular interests in 21st century Afghanistan: developing economic and political ties to an “Iran-friendly” regime in Kabul, to see the Western (US) influence decline and depart; to develop strong cultural, economic and religious links with the western part of Afghanistan, focused on the city of Herat and to take an interest in the fortunes of the Shia (Hazara) minorities in Western and central Afghanistan. In my crude “north/south division” scenario, I would expect Western Afghanistan to effectively be a part of the northern grouping. Secession of the west would be a very extreme scenario and would presuppose the fragmentation of the rest of the country. Iran has been (and I judge, would continue to be) an important financial, political and, if push came to shove, military, backer of parts of any form of “northern alliance”. This group included in the past the Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek western- and northern-based Afghan groups.

    Cheers

    Tim

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