Reconciliation in any post-conflict situation is a necessary step. But on whose terms? What is so worrying about the kind of reconciliation with insurgents in Afghanistan that is being discussed now is the absence of transparency or of any convincing assurances that the rule of law will apply, that justice will be done and that war criminals will be denied the right to once again decide the future of the country. The sudden rehabilitation of five top leaders of the Taliban on the request of President Hamid Karzai, with no accountability entailed, is alarming.
We should learn from other examples of conflict. Germany dealt with its Nazi past. In South Africa the whole nation watched as criminals stood before a truth commission. The difference in Afghanistan is that we are still at war. On top of the fighting, there is 100 years of underdevelopment to address. Afghans cannot, of course, expect all the problems that predate the 2001 intervention to be solved overnight by the international community. And we know that many countries in the Nato deployment are eager to find exit strategies.
But promises were made, and it would be abandoning all the democratic principles that first drove the intervention if the perpetrators of war crimes and barbaric acts are not now to be brought to justice so that a political settlement can be struck. How can people who have suffered unspeakably be expected to just say "I'll forgive you"? That might appear to be the easiest way out. But if it happens, it will not be long before a new crisis explodes in Afghanistan.
The Taliban come in a package along with their ideology. Why would they lay down their arms for nothing? We know that what they want is power and to be able to reimpose their principles. Will they stop their war against other ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan? Are these men really now going to say they accept equal rights for women?
There may be some fighters who signed up for the money and who can be won over, but how do you distinguish between the "good" and the "bad" Taliban? At the very least we need a functioning system to vet anyone who is seeking public office.
The Afghan people voted for democracy and against a system where women were banned from smiling or leaving the house alone. Engineering a way out of this conflict by striking political deals which undermine their wishes and protect the culture of impunity for human rights violations will guarantee that Afghanistan remains utterly unstable.
Justice is the key to any lasting peace or democracy. Victims must not be sacrificed for short-term gain. No peace without justice. That is the message that the ordinary people of Afghanistan, the missing link in this debate, are sending to the London conference.
The writer is a human rights activist based in Kabul and executive director of OPEN ASIAReuse content