Afghanistan - between war and truce?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - Afghanistan may go from a state of war to a process of national reconciliation.

If it does, this will be a dramatic shift - all President Hamid Karzai's previous attempts to talk to the Taliban were immediately cut short by both domestic opposition and the U.S.-led international sponsors of Afghanistan's recovery.

But sentiments seem to have changed. Both the informal international meeting on Afghanistan and the United Nations General Assembly have backed Kabul's plans to negotiate with the Taliban. The United Nations urged President Karzai and other Afghan leaders to promote political dialogue at home with a view to national reconciliation.

Nothing has changed in Afghanistan. But national reconciliation is becoming increasingly attractive. It is abundantly clear that Afghanistan's problems cannot be resolved by force. The Afghans have known this since the Soviet military occupation in the 1980s. They have learnt to resist force with guerilla warfare, whether as Mujahidin or Taliban.

The tactic of isolating the extremist Taliban leaders from the rank-and-file members has not worked. Attempts to portray the Taliban as a movement of Islamist radicals have been not only counterproductive but also dangerous; ordinary Pushtuns (who make up the majority of the Afghan Taliban) take such criticisms personally as anti-Pushtun.

Having agreed to talk, the Taliban have started bargaining. Last Saturday, they set out a whole number of pre-conditions for negotiations with the authorities. Above all, they insist on the withdrawal of ISAF peacekeepers from Afghanistan.

A call for national reconciliation is not unprecedented in recent Afghan history. Immediately after the Soviet troop pullout, President Mohammad Najibullah addressed the warring parties with his "homeland-or-death" slogan, a sentiment that won unreserved support amongst common Afghans.

Paradoxically, after the withdrawal of the 100,000-strong Soviet force in 1989 the wave of national reconciliation even helped the Afghan national army to score confident victories over the Mujahidin. The latter sustained heavy losses, and were also compelled to talk about reconciliation.

Najibullah was close to success, but his efforts failed to win support of the international community. While the West saw him as a Soviet yes-man (although he had never been anti-Western), Russia betrayed him. During talks with Burhanuddin Rabbani, a Mujahedin leader, in Moscow in November 1991, President Boris Yeltsin, Deputy President Alexander Rutskoy and Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev cut off fuel supplies to Najibullah's regime, paralyzing Kabul and most of the country.

In April 1992, the weakened and divided Najibullah regime surrendered power to a Mujahidin alliance. Two months later, civil war broke out, the repercussions of which are felt up to this day.

Will this be just another case of history repeating?

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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