NI figures to help Afghan peace talks
TWO OF the North’s politicians have flown to Afghanistan to offer advice to Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s government that could help to kickstart a formal process of peace talks with the Taliban.
Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson and SDLP founder member Denis Haughey are in Kabul as part of a UK-led initiative to give impetus to reconciliation and reintegration with the insurgents.
With the Taliban seemingly inching towards talks to end the conflict, it is hoped the experiences of the Irish peace process will give Afghans the belief that a political solution is possible, despite years of bloodshed and bitter ethnic rivalry.
Richard Stagg, the UK ambassador to Afghanistan, said he hoped “the visit should bring home to people that you can change things, just as France and Germany did in 1945. However ghastly, however bloody, however deep the feuds, the hatreds, a moment can come, does come, when they can be addressed.”
Speaking in Kabul on the first day of talks with members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council – the body set up by Mr Karzai to reach out to the Taliban – Mr Donaldson said he would talk to the insurgents directly, if that was what was needed, and he underlined that both sides would have to get used to dealing with people who had “blood on their hands”.
“You don’t make peace with your friends. You have to be able to talk to the Taliban. In Northern Ireland, I lost members of my family. I don’t come to this from the perspective of some high-minded theoretical approach about peace-building. You have to take hard decisions. I hope we will be speaking to people who will have the ear of the Taliban to communicate to them what we have said.”
Mr Donaldson added: “We haven’t come here to tell the Afghans what to do. We don’t have a template with Northern Ireland stamped on it. We are here sharing our experience of peace-building with Afghanistan and we hope to show even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved if there is the willingness and leadership required.
“You need a process. Peace is not an event, and in Northern Ireland it is still ongoing.”
The discussions he had had so far revealed that the Afghans were keen to start a formal process but unsure how to start it, Mr Donaldson said. They wanted the international community to support, but not interfere with, any talks before the withdrawal of Nato’s combat troops at the end of 2014, he added.
Mr Stagg said the visit of the two Irish politicians might help to show Afghans that “even those who are deeply embroiled in a very violent and bloody feud which looks insoluble can actually, if they are willing to make some big choices themselves, find a way to a better environment, a more stable and peaceful one”.
“I hope not to try to ‘teach lessons’ on the basis of our Northern Ireland experience, but more to talk through what happened and allow the lessons to emerge naturally. Despite some awful things happening, we have ended up with people on both sides sharing power in government. There is a message there,” Mr Stagg continued.
“They aren’t easy and even when you think they are all done, there may be eruptions from the past, and the answer to that is to address those rather than to fall back to your positions before the agreement.” – (Guardian service)