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Tuesday 28 March 2017

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FILE: Muhammad Naeem (L), a spokesman for the Taliban contact office in Doha.

FILE: Muhammad Naeem (L), a spokesman for the Taliban contact office in Doha.

Since their emergence in Afghanistan nearly a quarter-century ago, the Afghan people and the world at large have been perplexed by how to respond to the ragtag Taliban militia determined to rule the country as a hard-line Islamist regime.

Since their emergence in Afghanistan nearly a quarter-century ago, the Afghan people and the world at large have been perplexed by how to respond to the ragtag Taliban militia determined to rule the country as a hard-line Islamist regime.

The Taliban failed to moderate or normalize into a postwar legitimate Afghan government. Their relations with transnational militant networks such as Al-Qaeda, Pakistan’s numerous jihadist organizations, and Central Asian militants resulted in their regime being toppled by a U.S.-led military intervention after Al-Qaeda orchestrated the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington from its Afghanistan safe haven.

The demise of their regime in late 2001, however, didn’t end the Taliban movement. They soon re-emerged as an insurgency that sustained military operations by NATO troops for more than a decade.

Today, the Taliban control large swathes of the Afghan countryside, which they mostly overran after the departure of most NATO troops in late 2014. The insurgents, however, have failed to overrun major population centers and are nowhere close to toppling Afghanistan’s national unity government as long as Kabul receives substantial international aid and support.

The battlefield stalemate extends into the political sphere. Nearly a decade of diplomatic efforts to end the Afghan war through a negotiated solution between the Afghan government and the Taliban has yielded little. The two sides have only met once in direct talks.

The Afghan peace process is clouded by mutual suspicion, domestic political intrigue, efforts by warring parties to gain decisive battlefield advantage, and the not-so-covert efforts by Afghanistan’s neighbors to prevent a peaceful resolution.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s new administration is already grappling with one of the key questions his three predecessors have faced: What to do with the Afghan Taliban? His generals have already called for more U.S. boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

To discuss this question, RFE/RL Media Relations Manager and Gandhara Podcast host Muhammad Tahir turned to Bill Roggio and Eric Jones in Washington. Roggio is managing editor of the Long War Journal website while Eric Jones runs the Foreign Intrigue website.

Hekmatullah Azamy, a researcher at the Kabul-based Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, shared insights about the Taliban perspective on war and peace in Afghanistan. Contributing from Prague, I argued that strengthening the Afghan state, regional cooperation, and reconciliation among all Afghans will provide the right solution for ending the Taliban insurgency.

Listen to or download the Gandhara Podcast:

The views expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

FILE: In the absence of state courts, parties to a conflict often make heated arguments while making their case before a tribal jirga or council. Here, the residents of the town of Bara in the Khyber tribal district debate the fate of minority Sikhs threatened by a fanatical cleric in 2002.

FILE: In the absence of state courts, parties to a conflict often make heated arguments while making their case before a tribal jirga or council. Here, the residents of the town of Bara in the Khyber tribal district debate the fate of minority Sikhs threatened by a fanatical cleric in 2002.

A northwestern Pakistani region dubbed by former U.S. President Barack Obama as “the most dangerous place in the world” is finally getting some positive press.

A northwestern Pakistani region dubbed by former U.S. President Barack Obama as “the most dangerous place in the world” is finally getting some positive press.

Earlier this month, the Pakistani cabinet decided to change the status of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into a regularly administered region by eventually merging it into the neighboring province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

After the reform package is legislated into law through a constitutional amendment and presidential decrees,

FATA’s status as a colonial holdover will end. The century-old Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) will cease to be the law of the land. For generations, the draconian law violated the basic rights and enforced collective punishment (for the alleged crimes of one person) of the Pashtun tribes, clans, and communities that make up the estimated 7 million to 15 million residents of FATA.

The reforms will extend the jurisdiction of Pakistani courts to FATA, and its resident will enjoy all rights enshrined by the country’s supreme law. FATA will have representation in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial parliament and will also have an elected local government system.

With more than 50,000 civilians killed and at least 3 million FATA residents displaced during more than 10 years of unrest -- which saw the Taliban and allied extremist movements periodically controlling parts of FATA -- Islamabad has committed $1 billion a year in development funds in addition to its current investments. FATA residents will have a greater share in government jobs and scholarships.

Tribal leaders, politicians, and activists, however, are anxious that a new law, the Riwaj Regulations for Tribal Areas, might prove to be “FCR lite.” They are concerned that Pakistan’s wily bureaucracy will find a way to keep the region as a fiefdom with new nomenclature. There are questions over the resources allocated to the region and the lengthy timeline envisioned for its mainstreaming.

Despite the reforms enjoying widespread backing among FATA’s population, Pakistani political parties, civil society, and the media, at least two political parties and some interest groups are opposed.

To assess the consequential reforms, we turned to former Pakistani lawmaker Afrasiab Khattak, who joined the discussion from Islamabad. His secular Awami National Party was at the forefront of demanding the reforms. Also participating in the discussion is author Ghulam Qadir Daur. A native of Waziristan, his book Cheegha – the Call is invaluable for understanding the predicament of FATA.

I pitched in from Prague. FATA, where I was born and raised, has always held a fascination for me and has been a major focus of my reporting and research. RFE/RL Media Relations Manager Muhammad Tahir moderated our discussion from Washington.

Listen to or download the Gandhara Podcast:

The views expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

Volunteers examine the wreckage of a vehicle after a suicide bomb attack in Peshawar on February 15.

Volunteers examine the wreckage of a vehicle after a suicide bomb attack in Peshawar on February 15.

Following an ongoing wave of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, the country is once again engaged in a blame game with neighboring Afghanistan.

Following an ongoing wave of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, the country is once again engaged in a blame game with neighboring Afghanistan.

Islamabad’s demands that Kabul act against Pakistani militants sheltering on its soil has provoked similar demands from Kabul. The two have exchanged lists of suspected terrorists they expect the other to kill or capture.

The recent controversy has rekindled an old conundrum: If both countries are suffering from terrorism, why can’t they cooperate to contain what senior officials in both countries have repeatedly acknowledged is a common threat?

Muhmmad Tahir, RFE/RL’s media relations manager in Washington, moderated our discussion of the hot-button issue. Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at Washington’s Heritage Foundation think tank, joined Omar Samad, a former Afghan ambassador to France and Canada. As usual, I pitched in from Prague.

Listen to or download the Gandhara Podcast:

The views expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

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