Mullah Baradar’s Capture: Reconciliation vs. Justice

The recent arrest of “number-two” Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and the alleged revelation that Bardar was engaged in negotiations with the Afghan government at the time of his capture raises many questions:

• How did the arrest occur? Did authorities come across Baradar accidentally?
• Was Bardar’s capture a ploy by Pakistan to derail the Afghan government’s negotiations with the Taliban as a means to retain and shore up influence within the Taliban organization, especially those less open to negotiation with the West or India (of which Baradar was not)?
• Were the negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban more of a personal deal between President Hamid Karzai’s brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council, and Baradar’s faction of the Taliban in order to ensure stability for both parties’ extensive drug trade?

But of all the questions that arise from this incident and the negotiation revelations surrounding it, I find this moral, philosophical question chief among them: how does one properly balance the moral imperatives of reconciliation (for peace) and justice? Do we have to choose one over the other in some cases? In Afghanistan, I think we might.

As in conflicts past, the end of hostilities will mean integration of former soldiers and warlords into a post-conflict government and society—these may even include, at times, those guilty of the most unspeakable of war crimes. However, the question in Afghanistan is: what are the repercussions of sliding all weight towards the side of justice? If we punish (or threaten to punish) every single warlord or soldier guilty of war crimes and atrocities, what does that mean for the peace and stability of Afghanistan as a whole? It may create further instability and make certain constituencies, ethnic groups, tribes or religious affiliates less likely to accept the prevailing order.

Currently, the government of Afghanistan (both federally and locally) includes those guilty of past war crimes, such as General Abdul Rashid Dostum and current Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim. So, what’s the moral difference between their inclusion in the government and Mullah Omar’s, Bardar’s, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s and Jalaluddin Haqqani’s inclusion in it? Is it simply because, to paraphrase Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s alleged statement about Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia, that Dostum and Fahim are our “son of a bitch?”

Another example of this dilemma can also be demonstrated in a law passed by the Afghan government which provides pardons for all war crimes and human rights abuses that occurred prior to 2001.

In my limited view, there has to be some semblance of amnesty in order for Afghanistan to move forward, free of violent conflict and absent a return to civil war. However, I’m not sure if this can currently include two of the insurgency’s main leaders—Mullah Omar and Haqqani—for a number of reasons.

Haqqani, the closest of the insurgents to Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda Central, appears extremely unlikely to cut ties to the global jihadi movement. That is not to say, however, that a change in the balance of power, such as greater NATO victories and support for the Afghan government, would not change this position—it very well might.

Mullah Omar appears in a similar state of mind, one free from reasonable reconciliation. It’s doubtful he will cut all ties with the global jihadists (although he’s more likely to than Haqqani); accept a divided, republican form of government that respects minority rights; and become an active, respectful member of the ever-interconnecting global community. As with Haqqani, a change in present circumstances of power would certainly change this hardline position.

Hekmatyar, on the other hand, may be a vicious warlord with a bloody, iniquitous past, but he is the insurgent leader most open to negotiation and reconciliation with the Karzai government, as recent developments have demonstrated. Members of his militia have even begun battling Taliban insurgents and turning themselves in to Afghan government authorities.

To paraphrase Afghanistan expert Rory Stewart, we are not morally obligated to do something which we cannot in reality do. If ultimate justice is unattainable in Afghanistan as of now, we are not morally obligated to deliver it. Therefore, we must take the path of least damage—namely, the least damage to human life and human rights.

But, those are my thoughts, what are yours? Where do we strike the balance between justice and reconciliation, in Afghanistan or anywhere for that matter? Or do we need to strike a balance at all?

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