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Monday, June 7

"It seems that Afghanistan is condemned to an open-ended civil war."

On June 4 a three-day peace jirga (conference), orchestrated by Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, wrapped up with all 1,600 delegates from around the country and from all walks of life completely agreeing with his plan to seek reconciliation and reintegration with the Taliban. In a rich irony al Jazeera turned to Robert Grenier for an opinion on the show of solidarity.

Grenier, who'd spent most of his long career at the CIA abroad, was also one of the CIA's most experienced officers in southwest Asia at the time of the 9/11 attack. From 1999 to 2002 he was the CIA station chief in Islamabad and helped plan the brilliant covert operations that supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

To show that no good deed goes unpunished he was then brought to CIA headquarters and promoted to head the newly-formed Iraq Issues Group, where he helped plan the brilliant covert operations in support of the invasion of Iraq.

He was then kicked even higher upstairs until he landed, in 2005, as chief of the National Counterterrorism Center. A year later he was gone from the CIA: pushed out by a personality conflict or because his approach didn't fit with the Bush administration's views on counterterrorism, or fired by CIA head Porter Goss because of leaks on his watch about waterboarding and secret interrogation sites, or because he quit when he couldn't take working in the Emerald City anymore, take your pick.

What everyone can agree on today, I think, are these observations from the Washington Post in February 2006:
Grenier's departure comes at a time when the agency is bleeding top talent, robbing the CIA of institutional memory and damaging morale among case officers and analysts.

Since Porter J. Goss became director in September 2004, well over a dozen senior officials -- several of whom were promoted under Goss -- have resigned, have retired early or have requested reassignment. Grenier was the third person to be head of counterterrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Like Grenier, most of those leaving the agency had spent their career in the clandestine service and had years of experience in the Middle East and, more specifically, with al Qaeda.
Now Robert Grenier brings all his experience to bear in his analysis of Karzai's attempt to make peace with the Taliban:
... In many ways, this conference was a reflection in miniature of the fundamental flaws of the present Afghan government: Though perhaps broadly representative, its roughly 1,600 participants were selected by the regime.

They did not include any genuine representatives of the insurgent groups to whom they were supposed to appeal.

Indeed, the gathering was denounced and physically attacked by the Taliban, and branded a "useless exercise" by the insurgent Hizb-i-Islami.

To the casual observer, the peace jirga might have seemed a genuinely consultative search for a means of achieving peace with the insurgents.

Some 28 committees were established to make proposals, which they then submitted to the chairman, Burhanuddin Rabani.

The results of those deliberations seemed strikingly familiar, however, and broadly reflective of policies touted by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, for some time: Guarantees of amnesty and safety, as well as job-related incentives for former Taliban foot-soldiers willing to lay down their arms; the release of insurgents held in US and Afghan prisons, presumably to accept the same deal offered to their former Taliban comrades; the removal of certain Taliban leaders from the UN blacklist and arrangements for their "asylum" in a Muslim country where peace negotiations could be held.

At the same time, at least some delegates lobbied strongly against sacrificing recent gains in democracy and women's rights as part of any appeal to the Taliban.

Indeed, many of the jirga participants had the distinct impression that the conclusions reached by the gathering had in fact been fore-ordained.

Disregarding democracy

Regardless of the results of the peace jirga or how they were arrived at, however, it seems unlikely that its decisions will lead to peace anytime soon.

"Now the path is clear, the path that has been shown and chosen by you, we will go on that step-by-step and this path will, inshallah, take us to our destination," intoned Karzai to the delegates as they prepared to depart.

Reconciliation cannot be imposed unilaterally, however, and an uncomfortable fact remains: There is no partner willing to walk down the designated path with Karzai.

Their missile strikes and attempted suicide attack on the jirga site only served to underscore the Taliban's long-standing message: The Karzai government is an illegitimate, foreign-imposed entity meant to serve foreign interests, with which the Taliban will deal only after the foreign forces supporting it have left.

If and when the departure of US, NATO and other foreign forces is achieved, however, it is hard to imagine that the Taliban would deal with a fundamentally weakened Kabul regime through negotiations: One suspects the Taliban has other, rather harsher measures in mind.

Indeed, assuming that attempts to weaken or marginalise the Taliban leadership by luring away its fighters will enjoy little more success than such efforts have in the past, it is impossible to imagine what a negotiated solution between the Kabul government and Taliban would look like, or what sort of coherent national political structure it could produce.

The clerically-dominated Taliban has never shown much regard for even traditional tribal Afghan democratic norms - to say nothing of elections.

Indeed, one of the consistent complaints against Mullah Omar back when his movement controlled most of Afghanistan was that he even ignored the deliberations of his own Shura.

Even if the Afghan constitution were modified to permit greater local autonomy in areas controlled by the Taliban, is it conceivable that the Taliban would act as another political party, willingly allowing itself to be voluntarily accepted or rejected by the people? What would determine the scope of Taliban control or influence other than force of arms?

It seems most unlikely that Mullah Omar, as commander of the faithful, would subordinate himself to any law other than God's, as interpreted through the Taliban's own bleak and obscurantist norms.

A 'divided house'

The current trajectory of events in Afghanistan is already tending toward a de-facto "soft" partition of the country.

Given the gulf between the governing norms of the Taliban and those of the Kabul regime -- or of the ethnic minorities who are its most natural constituency -- it is hard to see what sort of agreed common governing structure could be arrived at to establish peace and some sort of political coherency in the country.

It is similarly hard to see how and why the Taliban, after all it is a national and not an internationalist movement, would deny safe haven to al-Qaeda and other foreign militants, especially given the important support they have provided against what many see as foreign occupying forces.

Without a clear and verifiable break between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, however, it is unlikely that the US will entirely abandon the field in Afghanistan and acquiesce in the al-Qaeda haven which motivated its armed intervention in the first place.

Abraham Lincoln once said that "a house divided against itself cannot stand". The US had to fight a bitter civil war to overcome the profound internal divisions to which he referred.

Likewise, the peace jirga notwithstanding, it seems that Afghanistan is condemned, when all is said and done, to an open-ended civil war.

The precise form that this civil war will take, and the longer-term role of foreign military forces in Afghanistan once the counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan's Pashtun areas has failed, both remain to be seen. ...

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