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'Soft Necks Will Not Be Slaughtered': Why the Afghan War Needs Peace Talks

Afghan activists say a resolution of the conflict in their country hinges on ejecting foreigners and facilitating negotiations with the Taliban.

This file photo, released by Australian Department of Defence, shows Australian soldiers observing the surrounding mountains during an operation in southern Afghanistan, in 2009. An Afghan soldier who opened fire on Australian troops at a remote base last year has claimed he and his fellow army recruits had often discussed killing the foreigners, according to a report.


Abdulhai remembers his father being killed by the Taliban. “Anyone who takes up a weapon in revenge, whether the Talib or any other, is acting like the Talibs who murdered my father,” he says, in a matter of fact way. “The solution does not lie in taking revenge, but in people coming together like the people of Egypt to defend themselves in a nonviolent way.”

Nine people gathered the morning of July 29 for an unexpected although welcome meeting here in Kabul. It was held in the home of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, where Raz Mohammed, a member of the group who is from Wardak province, had arrived along with a fellow student named Rohullah. The meeting included Tajiks, Hazaras and one Pashtoon. We were surprised and pleased to see our good friend.

His companion Rohullah, a Tajik, came from the Pul-e-Khumri district of Baghlan province. We'd been involved in a conversation, the previous night, about how to deal with Talib fighters, so now one of the Afghan Peace Volunteers wondered if there were Talibs living in Rohullah’s district. “Yes,” said Rohullah, “though Talib fighters are relatively few in number.”

Rohullah believes it is important for locals to discuss and try to understand main Talib demands. Local people can manage negotiations, whereas foreigners are slow to grasp the conservative expectations of the Taliban. He emphasized that it’s important to talk with the Taliban. “A soft neck will not be slaughtered by the sword,” says Rohullah, quoting a Dari saying. “A Talib will have a conscience. If we offer him our ‘soft neck’ in negotiations, he will not use his ‘sword.’”

He feels certain that under the present circumstances foreign forces shouldn’t be there. Negotiations cannot be facilitated by foreigners, and in fact a resolution of the conflict hinges on ejecting the foreigners.

Ordinary Afghans are cornered, caught in the crossfire between angry Taliban and angry foreign forces, as the NGO Oxfam insisted in its 2010 report fittingly titled " Nowhere to Turn."

People are not happy about encroachment into their homes through night raids, whether conducted by foreign or Afghan forces. Personally, Rohullah believes the night raids aren’t effective, building up hatred when civilians are inevitably hurt or killed.

“Drones also come,” says Rohullah, “and the operators of these drones don’t have accurate information about the places where they attack.”

Hakim then asked all of us to consider a hypothetical situation: if each of us came face to face with an angry, fundamentalist Talib fighter who believed he must kill all who oppose him, what would we do? Kill him? Send him to prison? Discuss issues with him?

As we went around the circle, none of the young people favored killing the Talib fighter. “Speak gently,” said Raz Mohammad. “Find the origin of support for the Talib fighter,” Rohullah said. Then he posed practical questions. “Where do the weapons come from? How can we cut the flow of weapons? Who are the elders who influence this man and how can we speak to them?”

Ghulamai, the youngest among us, says we must try to talk with the Talib.

Abaz thinks there must be some coordinating body for the Taliban, leading him to wonder who would be directing this Talib to act viciously. He reminds us that all of the Talibs are human. And he wonders if some people, from all sides, keep fighting because they want to perpetuate conflict. Perhaps they profit from it.

Ali says it is best to speak with the Talib, to find out where they are coming from, to listen, show respect, and yet try to persuade them that fighting isn’t the way forward. Help them see alternatives to revenge.

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