This session of THiNK2013 witnessed a rather historic meeting between Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef and Robert Grenier. Zaeef was one of the founding members of the Taliban and served as former Afghan ambassador to Pakistan until his imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay. Grenier is former director of the Counter-Terrorism Center of the CIA. Both shared the stage in a session pointedly called “An Afghan Date.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, both of these men pushed for talks between their respective countries. But it was only years later, following an international invasion and countless casualties, that these two men finally sat together to discuss the US-led invasion, the difficulties facing Afghanistan today and the thorny issue of drones.
Zaeef and Grenier gave a similar analysis of democracy building in Afghanistan. Grenier flagged 2005 as the turning point in the Afghan war. Until then, the American forces did not act independently, preferring instead to assist the Northern Alliance and tribal leaders in the South of the country. But the massive influx of American troops in 2005, coupled with a push for radical political change and democratic reform, was a move that was far too ambitious and arrogant, said Grenier, adding, “essentially what we were saying was that Afghanistan was becoming too important to be left to the Afghans”.
Zaeef credited the United States with bringing the democratic system to Afghanistan for the first time, but he insisted that it was unfortunately introduced in the wrong way. “Democracy is a system to be decided by the people for the people, yet the people were not given the authority to decide until today”.
Zaeef also stressed that the only way to bring security and stability into Afghanistan following the 2014 withdrawal of US troops, was through diplomatic means – “By force, the Afghans will be convinced for a limited time, but their hearts will not truly be convinced,” he said. His American counterpart highlighted the fact that today, the United States is open to discussion with the Taliban, viewing them as a part of the Pashtun cultural fabric. But he emphasised that although US military commanders themselves are increasingly stressing the importance of dialogue, the situation is “coming to a point where talks between the Taliban and the US don’t really matter”, thus making negotiations between the various Afghan factions and the Karzai government of utmost necessity.
By Sara Sudetic