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PAC 13 – When Needs Must The Conference on National Reconciliation for Afghanistan Held in London on 28th January 2010

By Hervé Pierre

Passage au crible n°13

“We must reach out to all of our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers, who are not part of al-Qaida, or other terrorist networks”, Hamid Karzaï declared before the delegates from 70 countries assembled in London on 28th January 2010. The reconciliation option was announced by the Afghan president as early as 2003, when it already distinguished between the good and the bad Talibans, and became a political priority for Kabul in 2009. In spring 2010, this strategic change of direction should lead to the summoning of a major traditional gathering (Loya Jirga). It should also lead to the creation of a 358 million euro fund aimed at dissuading the poorest Afghans from joining the rebellion.

Historical background
Theoretical framework

Historical background

In 1979, the Soviet invasion followed the overthrow of President Daoud by the communist insurrection. It provoked the emergence of numerous resistance groups which – in the Cold War context – received substantial support from the United States. However, the relative unity of the various mujaheddin movements did not outlast the withdrawal of the Red Army which began in 1989. The situation rapidly became anarchic and the rivalry between the chiefs caused numerous civilian victims. From 1992, students (taleb), who claimed to re-establish order and justice, gathered in Pakistani tribal areas around Mullah Omar. Their military successes culminated in the taking of Kabul in 1996. The new regime, which, initially, was not necessarily anti-occidental, rapidly became more radical through contact with Ben Laden. It then developed a political program exclusively based on the sharia and clearly favoured the Pashtun ethnic group.

Dominated by Tadzhiki elements, the Northern Alliance – supported by the United States – overturned the Taliban government in 2001 with the fall of Kandahar in 2002 representing its end. From 2003, the rebellion progressively took over the struggle. It is made up of a myriad of competing groups sharing only the will to resist any form of external interference. The orientation of these groups remains highly diverse and the pragmatism of certain leaders – the latecomers to the Taliban movement – is blatant. In 2003, The Economist evoked for the first time the existence of neo-Talibanism to describe what researchers such as Amin Tarzi then considered to be a totally new phenomenon.

Theoretical framework

Paradoxically, the performative discourse aiming to demonize the enemy serves the interests of both sides engaged in this fight to the finish. Consequently, it leaves little place for a third way seeking to distinguish the good from the bad.
1. Performative discourse. J.L. Austin demonstrated how certain discourse types do not fulfil a descriptive or informative purpose, but, instead, constitute acts in themselves. To call the Afghan rebels Talibans presupposes both the de facto existence of a unity between the combatant groups and the possibility of establishing a historical link with the movement which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Moreover, the strong emotional content of the term represents a political weapon which serves in equal measure those claiming to adhere to the movement and those fiercely combating it.
2. Demonization. The enemy is perceived as a homogenous, negatively defined block in opposition to another model. As classically analyzed by Robert Jarvis, at the base of this simplistic and deformed vision of reality there exists a tendency to overestimate one’s own referents which, through lack of empathy, leads to denying the pertinence or even the very existence of different rationalities. Once reduced to a supposed essence, the other incarnates solely the Enemy – irreducible, the catalyst of every fear, anguish and fantasy.


The process of reconciliation through the reintegration in the national political interplay of a fraction of the Talibans marks a notable evolution which illustrates a more astute appreciation of this rebellion without unity. Should it materialize, this outstretched-hand policy could sound the death knell for the Talibans both literally, with diminishing numbers of combatants, and figuratively, with the disappearance of any unicity in its discourse. However, this evolution encounters two major difficulties.

1. The credo of the war against terrorism. The promotion of a policy of national reconciliation shows the weakness – perceived by all the actors on the Afghanistan scene – rather than the strength of President Karzaï, whose weakened popularity and credibility greatly suffered from the pretence of democratic elections in August 2009 and whose relations with the Obama administration are highly strained. Consequently, the perspective of drastic reductions to the Coalition forces by 2011 leaves him no choice other than to reinforce his own numbers.
More than disarming the Dushman (rebel), the Afghan executive intends, above all, to conquer a power capable of modifying the balance of power. Within this line of reasoning, the reconciliation for peace appears to be a decoy, a political calculation by President Karzaï, solely destined to reinforce his personal position in a war context.
Demonizing the enemy justifies the combat, the appeals for funds and the troop reinforcements. It also supposes the unconditional support of public opinion since the local enemy is linked to transnational guerrilla warfare of which Mullah Omar, or even Ben Laden would be the instigators. In reply to President Karzaï’s propositions, the American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has chosen to brandish the spectre of a return to religious obscurantism preferring to essentialize the Talibans rather than to grant them some portion of rationality. In support of this policy of rapprochement, she ultimately declared that “you don’t make peace with your friends”. Committed to total war against terrorism, the United States divides the world into two mutually exclusive groups leaving no room for a third way.
2. Contesting, a profitable resource. At the micro level, the marginal who proclaims himself Taliban cheaply obtains local visibility out of all proportion to the reality of his power. In this way the Dushman of the Tagab Valley places his local and opportunist struggle within a wider mythical whole. Such a stance provides him with logistical support and an echo for his demands. At the macro level, the global jihad leaders, from their refuges in the tribal zones of Pakistan, catalyze and appropriate various forms of social violence which they then turn into a profitable resource on the global scene. So it is that the propositions of the London conference are rejected as a whole by those who have turned the struggle against the Occident into a business. In this respect, on 28th January 2010, the commanding council of the Talibans clearly indicated that the enemy’s attempts to buy the mujaheddin with offers of money and work so that they abandon the jihad were vain.

The solution to the Afghan problem through national reconciliation conceals its ambiguities with difficulty. Indeed, this policy is promoted out of self-interest, supported by default, even refused as a whole by its principle protagonists. As it happens, the final communiqué of the London conference seems to be highly revealing since, despite the number of discussions of the subject, the very term reconciliation is only mentioned once.


Tarzi Amin, Crews Robert D., The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2008.
Austin John, Quand dire, c’est faire, translation, Paris, Seuil, 1970.
Ledgard Jonathan, “Taking on the Warlords…”, The Economist, 22nd May 2003.
Jervis Robert, Perception and Misperception in International Politics, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1976.