Thursday’s London conference on Afghanistan, where the Afghan government, Britain and Japan have presented their plans for reconciliation with the Taliban, has reignited a months-long debate about whether or not to negotiate with the Salafi insurgents. Although passions run strong on both sides of the debate, in its abstract form—negotiate: yes or no—the discussion is of little policy usefulness. The real question about negotiating with the Taliban is what shape and content any such negotiation and reconciliation should have, and what are the costs and benefits of such an approach.
THE COSTS AND BENEFITS OF NEGOTIATIONS AND RECONCILIATION: SOME QUICK LESSONS FROM HISTORY
Negotiations and reconciliation frequently have been a critical component of ending conflict, reducing violence and saving lives: be they the pentiti laws in Italy directed toward the Red Brigades, or amnesty for the Shining Path’s soldiers in Peru, or negotiations between the Provisional IRA and the Unionists in Northern Ireland.
For many who advocate negotiations with the Taliban, negotiations are a way to extricate forces from what they consider unattainable and perhaps unimportant objectives in Afghanistan. But this position ignores the real and acute threat still emanating from the region, in the form of terrorism and severe regional instability. It also underestimates the risk and the costs associated with negotiations, such as giving the opponent a chance to increase its forces, recuperate, and renege on its promises. In Colombia during the 1990s, the government’s negotiations with the FARC enabled the leftist guerrillas to greatly increase their military power and pose a far greater threat to the Colombian state than it did before. Pakistan’s negotiations with various Taliban incarnations in Southern and Northern Waziristan and Swat resulted in intolerable threats to the Pakistani state, people, and the international community.
So what are the considerations that should drive the shape and content of the negotiations and reconciliation process with the Taliban?
President López Obrador's extension of the term of Supreme Court chief Arturo Zaldívar is part of his strong effort to recentralize power in the Mexican presidency and hollow out the independence and power of other Mexican institutions. His other moves to bend the justice system to his will include a reform that lowered the salary of judges but did not improve the quality of prosecutors and his unwillingness to allow an independent selection of the attorney general, with López Obrador himself retaining the power of appointment. His latest move with the two-year extension of Zaldívar’s term is especially worrisome. Zaldívar is also the president of the powerful Federal Judiciary Council. The council appoints and dismisses judges, sets career advancement rules and disciplines judges. Zaldívar will be setting the council’s and, thus, the whole judiciary’s, agenda and priorities for two years. This allows López Obrador to influence how courts will rule in cases regarding the executive branch, what cases they take up and the legality of new policies. These moves are taking place when the effectiveness of the judiciary in Mexico remains limited and deeply concerning. The attorney general’s office has proven weak, unwilling to take up key cases such as against the suspects in the brazen attack on Mexico City’s security minister, Omar García Harfuch—an event that symbolized the impunity with which Mexican criminal groups operate. Mexico’s justice system showed itself equally meek and disappointing in inadequately investigating the alleged complicity of former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos and dismissing the case, potentially the most significant case of corruption and criminal collusion charges against a high-ranking Mexican official in two decades. A decade and a half after Mexico initiated its justice system reforms, 95 percent of federal cases still go unpunished. President López Obrador has scored some points, but the already precariously weak rule of law in Mexico, and thus the Mexican people, will suffer.