Canada Cautiously Supporting Afghan Peace Talks

Hamid Karzai meets with Stephen Harper in September, 2006.  Photo by lafrancevi on Flickr.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in September, 2006. Will Harper's support for negotiations continue? (Photo: lafrancevi on Flickr.)

With peace talks under way between the Afghan government and representatives of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, cautious support is emerging from Canadian officials.

But despite the indicated support, any backing from Canada is tempered with the caveat that “a deal must result in a central government that is not under Taliban control.”  Additionally, any reconciliation processes must be “based on the acceptance by all groups within Afghan society of the central government’s legitimacy and authority, and respect for the rule of law.”

Whether or not this cautious support will hold should Afghan President Karzai begin to move towards power-sharing arrangements with insurgent groups remains to be seen.  Some European officials have “expressed support for talks aimed at bringing in elements of the Taliban who might be willing to renounce violence,” arguing a “political settlement is key to lasting peace.”  Canadian officials say such a settlement is “not what Afghans want.”

Opposing the European optimism, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates is downplaying the talks’ significance, believing “the Taliban will not make real concessions until they start to lose on the battlefield.”  Gates did admit reconciliation will be a necessary requirement for the ending of the war, though he did reject the Taliban’s reported position of wanting to “[set] a timeline of the departure of U.S. troops.”

See the source article here, or read below.

Canada backs talks between Karzai and Taliban
Officials in Ottawa say any deal must result in a central government that is not under Taliban control

CAMPBELL CLARK

OTTAWA — From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail, Wednesday, Jun. 03, 2009 04:07AM EDT

Canada says it supports peace talks under way between President Hamid Karzai’s Afghan government and representatives of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, but cautions they will have to accept the Kabul government’s authority.

Neither Canadian nor U.S. officials are involved in the talks in the United Arab Emirates, although Afghan government officials have said they believe they have the tacit support of the Americans to engage with the insurgents.

Some European countries have expressed support for talks aimed at bringing in elements of the Taliban who might be willing to renounce violence, arguing that a political settlement is key to lasting peace.

But U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said May 22 that he believes the Taliban will not make real concessions until they start to lose on the battlefield, although ending any war requires some level of reconciliation.

“And so the real issue is, will these guys reconcile on the terms of the Afghan government, or are they dictating terms to the Afghan government?” Mr. Gates said.

Officials in Ottawa, meanwhile, say Canada supports the talks, but with the caveat that a deal must result in a central government that is not under Taliban control.

“It is up to the Afghan government to decide how and with whom to engage in order to bring sustainable peace to Afghanistan. We encourage initiatives that will bring lasting peace to Afghanistan,” a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Catherine Loubier, said in an e-mail.

“We support the national reconciliation process, which is based on the acceptance by all groups within Afghan society of the central government’s legitimacy and authority, and respect for the rule of law.”

It’s less clear, however, how the Canadian opinion might shift if Mr. Karzai, now involved in a flurry of wheeling-and-dealing for the support of Afghan power-brokers in the run-up to the [August] presidential elections, starts to move toward power-sharing arrangements.

Mr. Karzai’s government has sought to engage representatives of notorious Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but it is not clear if he has representatives at the current talks.

So far, however, the Taliban’s position at the talks has reportedly centred on setting a timeline of the departure of U.S. troops – an idea Mr. Gates rejected.

Canada, with 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan, has shifted its approach to the troubled country somewhat, accepting that the insurgency won’t be defeated by military means alone.

Some experts believe any political settlement will have to involve a power-brokering arrangement with factions whose policies are repugnant to the West; Canadian officials say that’s not what Afghans want.

“There is increasing consensus among Afghan interlocutors on the issue of national reconciliation, that dialogue with antigovernment elements must include an absolute renunciation of violence and respect for the Afghan constitution and lead to process of democratization and not resumption of Taliban influence/control,” Ms. Loubier said in the e-mail.

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