Increasingly, these criminal elements — often integrated into international organized networks — took ministerial or local government positions. They became the state. Which is why so much money has been poured in, but has been lost to corruption. It is why, however many courthouses the British build, or training we give the Afghan judiciary, there cannot be a properly functioning justice system because there is no impartiality. Because the power-brokers at the top, having evaded the law themselves, have no interest in strong institutions and a decent justice system.
There can never be true reconciliation in Afghan society until the past is dealt with and those who have committed crimes are made accountable.
By the start of 2001, a famous commander of the 1980s anti-Soviet war, the Pashtun Abdul Haq, had spent two years devising a peace plan aimed at toppling the Taliban. The former king was to be the glue to unify different groups, and Haq engaged Ahmed Shah Massoud — the Northern Alliance leader assassinated in 2001 — tribal leaders and Taliban within the regime’s military who were willing to defect. They had held meetings in Bonn and Istanbul. People were willing to work with him because of his history as a guerrilla leader and his record of bridging the ethnic divide. However, in London and Washington, his plan was dismissed.
Today, politicians are hoping that the “bad guy” Taliban will somehow reconcile with the western-backed regime of Karzai.
However, the reality is that the Taliban hardliners are controlled by Pakistan, while in Afghanistan many people continue supporting the Taliban because they know they will soon be back.
They have already filled a vacuum in providing justice and security in rural Afghanistan, where the government has been corrupt, incompetent or hampered by the US military strategy, which has bred insecurity and chaos.
In reality, the West is using the talks to give itself a chance both to get out of Afghanistan and to claim that the state is stable. For both reasons, Pakistan’s cooperation is needed, and Islamabad is driving a hard bargain with the US, even suggesting that Afghan military officers must be trained in Islamabad. In Kabul this year, several Afghans asked me: “Why is the UK appeasing Pakistan?”
Unfortunately, it looks like the need for a quick exit will mean the West caves in to Pakistan’s demands. At that stage, we will have gone full circle in Afghanistan since 2001, with Pakistan once again back in the driving seat and civil war the only realistic outlook.
Lucy Morgan Edwards is the author of The Afghan Solution: The inside story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and how Western hubris lost Afghanistan.