Afghan Factions Meet in France as NATO Prepares Withdrawal

Four Afghan groups meet in France, not for negotiations but at least they’re talking.

Representatives of four Afghan groups met near Chantilly, France this week. While the meeting, organized by the Foundation for Strategic Research, is nowhere close to a negotiation, the gathering at least presented an opportunity for the various sides to talk.

Members of the Afghan High Peace Council, the Northern Alliance, Hezbi Islami and the Taliban came to France for the talks.

“If you want peace, it’s usually between people who don’t agree,” said France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius ahead of the meeting, “and over there they don’t talk to each other. So there will be discussions but it won’t be negotiations.”

2012 dawned with the hope that peace talks between the Taliban and the United States would progress. The former agreed to open a political office in Qatar and the Americans opened up to discussions about the release of prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Then, in March the talks stalled over the details of the Guantánamo prisoner transfer among other sticking points. The Taliban accused the American negotiators of being “shaky, erratic and vague.”

As the year draws to a close the situation in Afghanistan remains bleak. 2012 was not only plagued by stalled negotiations but by an increase in “green on blue” violence — the killing of NATO soldiers by Afghan security forces — and vague, if any, improvements in security throughout the country. Although the Western alliance doesn’t plan to leave the country before 2014, withdrawals are already underway.

The French government had no direct involvement in the meeting in Chantilly but officials were present. The meeting came at an auspicious time, a week after the French withdrew the last of their combat forces from Afghanistan and the British announced that they will be withdrawing nearly 4,000 soldiers next year, reducing Britain’s presence down to just over 5,000 troops by the end of 2013.

The meeting in Chantilly was not expected to result in any breakthrough toward a peace agreement. As it took place behind closed doors, we might not even learn soon whether anything was accomplished.

A Taliban spokesman said there would only be speeches, no political commitments and no negotiations. This, of course, could mean plenty of talking and no listening. On the other hand, gathering these disparate individuals together and allowing them a safe place to speak their positions is a step in the right direction.