Afghan president suggests a TRC to mend Taliban bridges

Afghanistan may use South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a guide to try and heal the trauma suffered by both citizens of that country and members of the Taliban.

Speaking during a visit to Washington yesterday, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said South Africa and Rwanda, which set up truth and reconciliation commissions to come clean about past abuses but not necessarily to punish them, had been most effective in “devising collective forms of therapy” for traumatised nations.

Officials in Pakistan and Afghanistan said last month that the Afghan Taliban had signalled that it was willing to open peace talks with Kabul.

Ghani’s comments were made on the same day that six people were killed and 30 were injured in a suicide bombing near the presidential palace in Kabul.

A suicide bomber in a vehicle packed with explosives struck in the heart of the capital, which is on high alert in anticipation of the Taliban’s annual spring offensive.

Ghani said that peace with the insurgents was “essential” and that it was necessary to find a way to apologise and heal national wounds.

He added that some members of the Taliban had legitimate grievances given the torture and ill treatment they had suffered.

“People were falsely imprisoned, people were tortured. They were tortured in private homes or private prisons,” he said.

“How do you tell these people that you are sorry?”

Speaking at the United States Institute of Peace think tank, Ghani praised a report by a US Senate committee that said the Central Intelligence Agency acted more brutally and pervasively than it acknowledged in its torture of detainees after the September 11 2001 attacks, including in Afghanistan.

Ghani mentioned local Afghan systems of justice based around the tribal jirga, or council, and contrasted these with “Western justice” which responded to killing with killing.

“Part of the jirga is what is called putting a stone on conflict; you bring about amnesia, for 20 years, 30 years or others, so society can function,” he said.

“Peace means forgiving blood,” Ghani said, adding that Europe after World War Two was an example of “historical amnesia”.

Ghani said he would not tolerate the abuse of innocent people and vowed that he would “fire anybody” who engaged in this, but he said the past was “a much more complex tapestry”.

“We cannot sacrifice the future for the sake of the past. we must bring about a balance. If we go just looking at the past, we will be destroying the future.”

Ghani, who became president last year, has been fêted in a five-day US trip seeking to repair ties frayed under his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

In a speech to Congress yesterday he called national reconciliation a “pillar” of his government. He said Taliban members could find their way back into Afghan society, if they agreed to respect the constitution.

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