Interview with Afghan tribal elder Naqibullah Shorish


Photo: Otmar Steinbicker (l.) and Naqibullah Shorish in Aachen. Photo:Harald Krömer

07.08.2012 – During the last weeks and months there have been widely contradictory reports in the international press about the willingness of the Taliban to enter into negotiations. Who do they want to talk to, who do they not want to talk to? editor Otmar Steinbicker discussed the central questions concerning a peace settlement for Afghanistan with Naqibullah Shorish, the most important clan leader in Afghanistan. Shorish has connections to all parties including the Taliban leadership which has accepted him as a neutral mediator. He represents more than 3 million Afghans as clan chief of the Kharoti. Is there any chance of a peaceful solution? Apparently the talks between the Taliban and the USA failed. The Taliban declared that the talks were definitely broken off.

Naqibullah Shorish: There were talks last year in Qatar between the Taliban and the USA with German mediation. These talks were concerned solely with the exchange of prisoners. For years the Taliban have been holding Bowe Bergdahl prisoner, and they wanted to exchange him for former Taliban leaders held in Guantanamo. The US negotiators in Qatar had promised their release, but the US Senate refused to ratify the agreement. The Taliban were angry, as I can well understand. In talks like this promises must be kept or it is impossible for trust to develop. The failure of these talks is especially problematical, as they are a test case for future peace talks. A successful mutual exchange of prisoners would be the starting signal for serious talks about a peace settlement. Such negotiations would then be conducted on a different level. Recent Taliban statements on peace talks have been inconsistent. On the one hand they maintain that negotiations with the USA have definitely been called off, on the other hand they signalise a readiness to talk. What can we make of this?

Naqibullah Shorish: Yes, there have been contradictory reports in the international press recently. Yet basically the Taliban want the conflict to be settled. They are ready for talks with the Europeans and the USA. They have been prepared to negotiate for some time now and gave proof of this in talks with ISAF officers from USA, Great Britain and Germany in the summer of 2010. I had arranged the meetings and participated as mediator. They took place in July and August 2010, were solution-oriented and remarkably successful. In October 2010 they were abruptly broken off by Commander Petraeus. If the West is interested, talks could be reopened at any time – naturally without either side stipulating conditions. The USA and the German government insist on negotiations taking place between the Taliban and the Karzai government. According to a press report, President Karzai has now asked the German Government to negotiate talks with the Taliban. Is there any chance of this?

Naqibullah Shorish: The Taliban have always said they do not want to talk to Karzai because they judge him to be a marionette of the USA and challenge the legitimacy of his government. So as far as I can see, direct talks between President Karzai and the Taliban do not seem possible in the near future. But perhaps the German Government should try, in separate talks with both sides, to explore openings and even approaches to a peace settlement. It would not be necessary for the opposite sides to talk directly to each other immediately. Diplomatic mediation in indirect negotiations has proved successful in other difficult international conflicts. Nothing should be left unattempted! Would you be able to mediate such talks between the German Government and the Taliban as part of indirect negotiations with the Karzai government?

Naqibullah Shorish: Certainly, any time the German Government wishes. I am sure that if this wish is expressed, first talks can follow very rapidly. Is a peace settlement between the Karzai Government and the Taliban conceivable?

Naqibullah Shorish: I don’t dare to make any such prophecy, because the Nato is an even more important participant in the conflict than the Karzai government! But talks are always useful when a solution to conflict is sought. Where might there be openings?

Naqibullah Shorish: A first, and for me central, question would be: What can Karzai do to offer security to the Taliban? If Karzai wants peace talks, there must be a neutral province where the Taliban are not threatened by either the US-American drones or the Pakistan secret service. So it should not be a province bordering on Pakistan. In my opinion the ISAF must guarantee the security of this province. Why should Karzai offer the Taliban security?

Naqibullah Shorish. Photo: Harald Krömer

Naqibullah Shorish: Pakistan is exerting massive pressure on the Taliban not to hold talks with the USA or with Karzai, especially since the signing of the contract between the USA and Afghanistan, and since September 2011 when 24 Pakistani soldiers lost their lives in a gunfight in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is Pakistan and not the USA, the Taliban or Karzai, which is the main obstacle to a peace settlement in Afghanistan. So long as the Taliban leaders live in Pakistan under the eyes of the ISI secret service, they and their families are subject to massive pressure from the Pakistani secret service. Western diplomats know of at least one bomb attack by the ISI on the house of a Taliban leader who was ready to negotiate. His wife was seriously injured at that time.

In the talks between ISAF and the Taliban in the summer of 2010, this question played a major role. Both sides considered the possibility of setting up a neutral interim government in an Afghan province which would enjoy the trust of both the Karzai Government and the Taliban, so as to enable the Taliban to move to Afghanistan and escape the clutches of the ISI. Were the ideas put forward by the ISAF officers and the Taliban leaders in their talks in summer 2010 based on your peace plan, the Shorish Plan?

Naqibullah Shorish: Yes. It seems very important to me to begin where there has been mutual agreement, or where ideas have been facing in a common or similar direction. That is why I have set down the first three steps the conflicting parties should take directly after the opening of peace talks:
• 1. End hostile propaganda,
• 2. Release prisoners,
• 3. Operate a ceasefire.

The key factor of my peace plan is a neutral interim government which would prevent civil war after the withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014, and facilitate a permanent peace settlement for all conflicting parties in Afghanistan. Provision would be made for the Taliban to form a political party and take part in free and fair elections, in the same way as everybody else. NATO and the Karzai Government insist on the Taliban recognising the present constitution of Afghanistan.

Naqibullah Shorish: That will not and cannot work. A constitution must be the basis of national and political activity agreed upon by a consensus of all relevant forces. It cannot be imposed on a country from outside and cannot be imposed by a doubtful majority on the other groups in the same country. Since its foundation, Afghanistan has had the Loya Jirga as its constitutional assembly. The Loya Jirga will have to deliberate once again and pass a resolution on Afghanistans’s constitution so that a consensus may be arrived at which all can and are obliged to support.

Besides, the Afghan government itself does not observe the constitution, as is shown clearly in the prevailing corruption. How then are the Taliban supposed to accept this constitution? Does this mean that the women’s rights prescribed after 2001 are going to be repealed?

Naqibullah Shorish: No, Afghanistan has a long tradition of women’s rights. It is true that women’s rights were trampled on during the Taliban period of government. But the Taliban have learnt that this was a mistake. In the meantime they have recognised the importance of the right of women and girls to an education and a career. Afghanistan’s Minister of Education has admitted that the Taliban have also changed their position with regard to girls’ schools. When 23 schools in the south of the country were closed recently, first it was said that the Taliban were to blame, but then the Minister had to concede that there were not enough teachers. Women’s employment was not undisputed in the first years of the German Republic. Up to the fifties husbands could forbid their wives to go out to work. That means that the Taliban today is more modern than the Conservatives in Germany 50 or 60 years ago.

Naqibullah Shorish: An interesting point. Yes, that’s true. What do the Taliban think of your peace plan?

Naqibullah Shorish: Taliban say that about 95% approve. And the other sides?

Naqibullah Shorish: In the Afghan tribes and in the non-Pashtunish ethnic groups my ideas have met with a great deal of agreement. European diplomats take exception to the proposal for an interim government. They say that the Karzai government was democratically elected, although they realise there was electoral fraud … ... …and in the crisis of european currency Euro, governments in Italy and Greece which were democratically elected have been very quickly replaced by interim governments.

Naqibullah Shorish: The main problem is that in the West there is no consistent line of action, let alone a peace plan, which could be seriously discussed and, if applicable, realised. So the Shorish Plan is the only peace plan?

Naqibullah Shorish: It is not the only plan, but the only one which is accepted basically by one of the conflicting parties and is thus relevant. In recent months there have been reports of serious conflict among the Taliban.

Naqibullah Shorish: At the moment there is tension between the different groups of the Taliban. A Taliban leader, Kare Mohammad Ismail, was even arrested by the Taliban leadership. This would have been impossible earlier. Essentially, there is a fraction of the Taliban which obeys the Pakistan secret service, and another which follows Afghanistan politics and does not want to listen to ISI. However: a split of the Taliban would increase the problem and not lessen it! The Haqqani Network is often mentioned as an especially problematical group of the Taliban.

Naqibullah Shorish: Haqqani stated his strict opposition to the Qatar talks, but he has changed his mind. The talks in Qatar came as something of a surprise to many of the Taliban. What perspectives are left to Afghanistan if no peace talks are realised or these fail?

Naqibullah Shorish: If there are no talks until 2014, there is the risk of civil war. The USA are already paying war lords who are building up and reinforcing their militia. This trend will increase when, as planned, the army is reduced by 100.000 men. These militia of the war lords are already daily involved in looting. Village militia are being set up to defend themselves against the war lords’ militia.

If it comes to a civil war, the result is foreseeable - there will be an interim government along the lines of the Taliban, but not as the USA would like and not according to the wishes of the Afghans themselves.

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