‘Broker peace with Taleban or risk civil war in Afghanistan’

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COALITION forces’ lack of progress in reducing violence in Afghanistan “does not auger well” for the future and could lead to civil war, a committee of MPs warn today.

The start of an Afghan-led peace settlement with the Taleban is vital to ensure the war-torn country is stable and secure after the withdrawal of British troops next year, the Commons defence select committee said.

However, the failure to engage in a peace process with the insurgency could cause civil war in the country, which has seen fighting for more than a decade, the MPs added.

The UK government has a responsibility to use its influence to “make a post-2014 Afghanistan work”.

But lack of progress “does not auger well for improving security and economic development on a long-term sustainable basis”, the committee said.

It did note a fall in civilian casualties for the first time in six years, “although they remain high”, and recognised that enemy- initiated attacks are now occurring in less populated areas.

Some ground may have to be given in negotiations with the Taleban, but the committee stressed the importance of open and free elections and said the rule of law and human rights cannot be compromised in any settlement.

The committee said that all Afghan people, including women, must be involved in the peace process.

If women are excluded as a consequence of negotiating with the Taleban, the progress made could “easily unravel”, the MPs warned.

The international community and neighbouring countries including Pakistan, India, China and Iran also have a vital role to play in peace negotiations.

In its report, the committee said: “We hope that Afghanistan can become a secure, prosperous and flourishing country but we are concerned that Afghanistan could descend into civil war within a few years.

“Engaging with the Taleban in the peace process will clearly be necessary. In response to this report, the government should spell out what steps it intends to take to at least hold on to the progress made so far.”

Concerns remained over the capability of Afghan forces to fill the gap left by withdrawing coalition forces, particularly in terms of helicopters and logistics, the committee said.

Aid remains crucial in “strengthening the Afghan government’s hand in negotiations and ensuring that the West continues to have a voice in Afghanistan”, the report said.

The drugs trade and corruption are likely to remain problems after withdrawal, but Britain should continue supporting efforts to reduce their influence, the committee added.

The Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office have provided the committee with “very little information” as to how they plan to be involved in Afghanistan beyond next year, it noted.

Given there are fewer than two years before the end of 2014, the committee called on the government to set out how it sees its future role in Afghanistan.

There needs to be a contingency to deal with a breakdown in security as UK troops pull out.

MoD estimates about the cost of withdrawing military equipment are “unduly optimistic”, the committee said, and they should not make “hurried and flawed” decisions based on “short-term affordability”.