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A Road Map to Peace in Afghanistan: Karzai's Plan to Negotiate with the Taliban

By and Sohail Nasir

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai traveled to Washington to seek support from Barack Obama for his plan to reconcile with the Taliban and forge a path to peace in the war-torn country. SPIEGEL has obtained a copy of his secret peace plan, which foresees reintegrating Taliban fighters into Afghan society.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai was in Washington last week to convince President Barack Obama of the merits of his plan to negotiate with the Taliban. Zoom
AFP

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai was in Washington last week to convince President Barack Obama of the merits of his plan to negotiate with the Taliban.

The cell was just 2 meters by 2.5 meters (6.5 feet by 8.2 feet) in size. There were no windows and rock music was piped in around the clock. The prisoner, Ghairat Baheer, the son-in-law of the legendary insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, sat half-naked on a concrete floor. It was winter and he was only fed once every 48 hours. Not all of the inmates at the "salt pit," as the CIA agents called their secret prison near the Kabul airport, survived the ordeal.

Baheer is one of Hekmatyar's closest confidantes. US special forces captured him in October 2002, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai personally intervened to ensure his release. After six months in the "salt pit" and a further five-and-a-half years at the US military prison camp at Baghram, Karzai's workers pulled him out of the jail and drove him to dinner at the president's palace in Kabul. It was the start of rapprochement talks with Hekmatyar's radical Islamist group Hezb-i-Islami, which the president is continuing to conduct now.

During his visit to Washington last week, Karzai wanted to get the green light from US President Barack Obama for his negotiations with insurgency leaders. He took with him a detailed, ambitious road map for ending the war against the Taliban. SPIEGEL has obtained a copy of the 36-page document.

Safe Passage into Exile

In it, top Taliban leaders are offered safe passage into exile and their names would be dropped from the United Nations sanction list if they sever their "links with al-Qaida." Fighters who lay down their weapons will not face prosecution and will be protected from persecution. With the help of comprehensive job programs, the former Taliban militants are to be trained to work developing the national highway system and on infrastructure projects, or as members of a civil emergency response unit to provide relief in natural disasters such as floods or landslides. "The reintegration packages and approaches are designed in such a manner to ensure successful reintegration of different ranks of ex-combatants, and to provide local solutions to local problems," the document reads.

But instead of negotiating directly with the leaders, the Americans prefer, at least for the time being, to "reintegrate" only foot soldiers and local leaders. They prefer to negotiate with Taliban chiefs from a position of strength that would be achieved, at the soonest, after the summer offensive in Kandahar.

The Americans and the Karzai administration both agree widely that the three most important Pashtun groups, namely followers of Mullah Omar, Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, who were absent at the first international conference on the future of Afghanistan that took place in Germany in December 2001, must also be given a place in Afghan society in the future. But it remains entirely unclear how that can be accomplished without causing the collapse of the government in Kabul or triggering a civil war with the country's Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities.

"We are weary of war and division, and we have shed too many tears," the document reads. "Out of division let us build unity."

'Puppet Karzai Must Go'

"The Afghan Taliban no longer insist to govern, but they want to negotiate directly with the Americans. The puppet Karzai must go, the Western military must withdraw, sharia must be implemented and a shura with representatives from across the country led by Mullah Omar must be convened," Hamid Gul, the former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) told SPIEGEL, describing the prerequisites for a cease-fire.

Gul, 73, is a dyed-in-the-wool Islamist. During the 1990s, he was one of the men who helped build the Taliban -- and he is still close to them. And right up to today, Pakistan secretly considers the Taliban to be its fifth column in Afghanistan. The countries which have up until now supported the Talibans' enemies, the so-called Northern Alliance mainly comprised of Tajiks and Uzbeks, are following similar strategies: Iran, India and the bordering former Soviet republics.

Nevertheless, a delegation of Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami, led by his son-in-law Baheer, made an initial peace offer to Karzai in March. In a 15-page program, which SPIEGEL has also obtained, the group calls for the "complete withdrawal" of Western troups within six months, starting in July 2010, as well as new elections and the release of all political prisoners.

In exchange, they are offering a cease-fire and the breaking-off of ties with al-Qaida fighters. Now the possibility is being discussed of Hekmatyar going into exile in Saudi Arabia for a few years and Baheer being appointed as a minister in Karzai's cabinet.

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