This is interesting for a couple of reasons:
Nato and the United Nations are cautiously considering a Taliban proposal to set up a joint commission to investigate allegations of civilians being killed and wounded in the conflict in Afghanistan, diplomats in Kabul have told The Guardian.
The Taliban overture, which came in a statement posted on its website, will revive a divisive debate about whether to conduct any formal talks with insurgents who are responsible for the majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and whose assassination campaign now kills one person every day on average.
The Taliban statement called for the establishment of a body including members from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, UN human rights investigators, NATO and the Taliban. “The stated committee should [be] given a free hand to survey the affected areas as well as people in order to collect the precise information and the facts and figures and disseminate its findings worldwide,” the Taliban said.
One human rights organisation has already thrown its support behind the joint commission plan, which echoes a similar idea floated four years ago.
The UN and NATO are treading carefully, but western diplomats say the proposal is being carefully considered. One said that some senior officers at the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force were keen on the idea but that no steps could be taken until it was considered “at the highest political level”.
It appears that last week’s UN report suggesting that 76% of Afghan civilian casualties over the past year were caused by the Taliban, rather than by the government or ISAF, hit home. NATO/ISAF should strongly consider taking the Taliban up on this offer. First, it offers an opportunity to develop productive contacts with the Taliban, contacts that could provide the foundation for an eventual settlement. Second, just as public criticism has helped make NATO more conscientious about civilian casualties, sensitivity about public criticism may make the Taliban more likely to moderate its behavior. Even if the independent commission proposal is mainly a stunt, it still seems to indicate that the Taliban wants to be viewed as respectful of civilian life and property.