January 28, 2010 / 6:31 PM / 10 years ago

Analysts' View: Afghanistan: "A big shift in mood"

(Reuters) - The Afghan government on Thursday invited the Taliban to a peace council of elders as part of efforts toward resolving the conflict in Afghanistan.

Here are some analysts’ views of the day’s events.

ALEXANDER THIER, AFGHANISTAN DIRECTOR, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE

There is no situation worse than war. And so a political settlement would be an improvement for everyone. However, any new arrangements bringing in the Taliban could bring a real difference on human rights and women.

The changes that have been made on women’s rights in the last few years have been significant and hard-fought. Of course in contrast, during the Taliban’s time there was gender apartheid. So a return of Taliban influence could bring a real impact.

PAUL ROGERS, PROFESSOR OF PEACE STUDIES, BRADFORD UNIVERSITY

There has been a very big shift in mood. The recent spate of statements about bringing in elements of the Taliban is very noticeable.

At root this shift stems from the differences between Bush and Obama, and McCain and Obama. McCain, had he won the U.S. presidential election, would have sought a surge aiming at military victory. Obama seeks a surge with a view to a compromise.

The spin is that Afghanistan can take charge of their own security.

The reality is that the situation has been deteriorating on the ground for the past three years and there has to be a compromise.

The real $64,000 question is that since the Taliban is in a strong position, why should they negotiate? Why don’t they simply wait it out and wear their opponent down?

Karzai is clearly worried about that. That is why he is talking about a possible 15-year international presence. His government could not stand without Western support.

There are other problems. We often forget that the Afghan army lacks a sufficient officer class. It doesn’t have enough experienced men in the middle ranks, and it takes a long time to develop an officer cadre.

Another is Iran. A lot of what is going to happen will have to depend on Iran not playing rough and Iran is a player in the west of Afghanistan. If Washington is going to toughen sanctions on Iran that will not provide an incentive for Iran to cooperate on Afghanistan.

FARZANA SHAIKH, BRITAIN’S CHATHAM HOUSE THINK-TANK

It’s open to doubt whether the Taliban will go along with this process. Knowing that there is an exit strategy, they may well dig their heels in, in the belief that the government’s situation is doomed to failure.

I note that former Pakistani ISI (intelligence) officers have been saying in the past few days that as long as the plan is predicated on the breaking up of the Taliban, it is doomed to failure.

And we know that Karzai is under a cloud over allegations of corruption and he has at best only half a government.

There is a spreading suspicion that the only reason why we have seen Western statements about a possible settlement is that the international forces are on the back foot.

PETER MARSDEN, AUTHOR AND RESEARCHER ON THE TALIBAN

Skepticism remains about the notion of peeling away Taliban fighters. The Taliban still has the upper hand in terms of portraying itself as the defender of Islam and of a country that has been invaded by an external force.

I think it is difficult to see how the international forces can hope to win hearts and minds in the Pashtun south and the Pashtun enclaves in the north. At best they can win a level of indifference about the government.

Those who collaborate with the government now may be at increasing risk from the Taliban.

Having the Taliban on board will not make a huge difference on human rights and women because it’s already pretty bad on that score. Parliament has shown itself to be pretty conservative. It’s more a question of whether the Taliban is prepared to play the democratic game.

If the international forces carry out their plan to withdraw from the villages and focus on the cities, then that could make the invaders less visible to rural Afghans and in turn, by removing the visible grievance, that could lower Taliban recruitment in the villages.

But there are real doubts about whether the planned development can provide jobs at the local level.

Reporting by William Maclean, Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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