The ‘inclusive’ Afghan government Afghans do not want

The Taliban does not want to share power with warlords and corrupt former officials and neither does the Afghan population.

Taliban soldiers stand guard at the second-anniversary ceremony of the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2023. REUTERS/Ali Khara
Taliban soldiers stand guard at the second-anniversary ceremony of the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban in Kabul on August 15, 2023 [File: Reuters/Ali Khara]

On February 18, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will host a meeting of special envoys for Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar. The Taliban had earlier confirmed it will be sending a delegation to the event, which will also be attended by other Afghan political stakeholders and representatives of the Afghan civil society.

This gathering is being held to accommodate one of the recommendations presented by the UN Special Coordinator for Afghanistan Feridun Sinirlioğlu in his November report (PDF) on the state of affairs in the country.

Although the report highlighted the need to focus on confidence-building measures between the international community and Afghan stakeholders, which would imply identifying areas of possible cooperation that are not politically sensitive, some difficult issues are bound to be brought up at the meeting. Prime among them would be the matter of the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan. This demand has been reiterated by regional and international actors as one of the key preconditions for the recognition of the Taliban government.

Seeking inclusive governance after a conflict is a routine diplomatic intervention. The idea is that inclusion is vital in peace-building, as it can resolve grievances produced by exclusion and prevent the re-emergence of violence.

However, the term evokes unpleasant memories for the Afghan people because it reminds them of the Bonn Conference that followed the US invasion of Afghanistan where the exiled and reviled warlords of the country were given a clean slate and an opportunity to participate in the subsequent power-sharing arrangement.

This inclusion of the warlords effectively meant impunity for crimes and played a vital role in the failure of the subsequent attempts at state-building in Afghanistan. The warlords were also spoilers of the peace process with the Taliban, the failure of which led to the eventual fall of Kabul to Taliban forces in August 2021.

The Taliban has used the negative sentiment the term invokes in the population to its advantage, refusing to succumb to international pressure to include other Afghan political forces in its government. It has made clear that it considers such pressure an attempt to repeat the experience of the Bonn Conference. This is not an unpopular move, as the Afghan people dread the return of warlordism to Afghanistan.

Some of these exiled warlords who still have eyes on power include Abdul Rashid Dostum who has been accused of sexually assaulting political opponents and of committing war crimes during the US invasion and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf who was one of the warlords responsible for the Afshar massacre of 1993 in which up to 1,000 people were butchered in a western district of Kabul.

Ahmad Massoud, the son of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was also involved in the Afshar massacre and the Afghan civil war, has also recently emerged as a political player. He is currently attempting to rally exiled warlords and allies of his father to fight against the Taliban while seeking funding from foreign governments.

Apart from the warlords, there is a great number of former Afghan officials of the previous government who have expressed a desire to come back to power. Many of them are being included in conversations on the future of Afghanistan despite standing accused of large-scale corruption and even drug trafficking.

It is not clear if any of the warlords or other problematic political players will participate in the meeting in Doha. The invitation process has not been transparent and it seems attempts were made to include some controversial figures, as the Taliban warned it would not attend if the selection of the Afghan participants was not agreeable to its leadership.

If the meeting in Doha is meant to find ways to build bridges with the Taliban, then it should not be a venue where the inclusion of warlords and former Afghan officials of ill repute is pushed. Such a move would be counterproductive as it would make the Taliban more reluctant to engage. The issue of larger participation in the Taliban government can be brought up when enough trust has been built and momentum generated.

While it is clear who should not be part of a future government, finding qualified and trusted figures from non-Taliban political forces can be a challenge. That is because, between 2001 and 2021, the elections in the country were repeatedly rigged, making it unclear who represents the will of the Afghan people.

Ultimately, the Taliban should be allowed to choose who beyond its movement to include in government. This is not an ideal outcome but it would be an improvement on the current status quo.

The demand for the Taliban to break its current monopoly on power should be framed differently if it is ever to be realised. The term inclusivity not only is a non-starter for the Taliban but also evokes bad memories in Afghanistan’s general population.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.