- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I met with former Taliban government minister Moulavi Arsala Rahmani when I traveled to Afghanistan in 2009 in an unofficial capacity while serving as senior policy adviser for Rep. Michael Honda, California Democrat. What a loss Rahmani’s death is for the peace process (“Gunman kills Afghan peace council member in Kabul,” Web, Sunday).

Rahmani, a former deputy minister of higher education, met with me even while postponing appointments with various students who had gathered for Eid. I read this action as a desire for dialogue. At that time, some 8,000 Taliban members had already disarmed and 7,000 were waiting to do so. If these young men were provided with a livelihood and protection, the Taliban minister asserted, al Qaeda would take a significant hit in recruits and momentum. If postponed, the tide would turn and the once-reconcilable Afghan Taliban would be alienated further.

Rahmani cited for me the increasing vulnerability of his Afghan Taliban brothers, saying al Qaeda was keen to cast an umbrella over the various splintered Taliban groups throughout Central and South Asia and that the United States was pushing the Afghan Taliban ever closer to al Qaeda. Rahmani offered up his Afghan Taliban brethren for negotiations, suggesting that this was one way of undermining al Qaeda - by preventing them from gathering all the various Taliban groups under its wing.

How apt Rahmani’s words are now in light of the stalled peace and reconciliation process. This opportunity to divide and conquer through diplomatic means eluded Washington then and still seems to elude leaders who are wrapped up in an enemy narrative that misses the complexity of conflict and the opportunity therein to prevent additional violence.

Washington could do half the harm if we listened to what Afghans like Rahmani are telling us, in all sectors, governance, development and security. This is a big request for a town where that tack is atypical, but it is the only way we’ll win the hearts and minds of an increasingly alienated Afghanistan.

MICHAEL SHANK

U.S. Vice President

Institute for Economics and Peace

Washington