Concerning the Peril of Negotiating with the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 6 months ago

Background & Report

In Competing Strategies in Afghanistan we documented the push by Hamid Karzai, Secretary Miliband and Secretary Des Browne to negotiate with the Taliban.  The Canadian liberal Senators have now put their weight behind the same plan, with the Tory Senators waffling over the idea.

The wide-ranging report also calls for the military to extend tour lengths to between nine and 12 months from the current six-month rotation, something that is being actively considered by Canada’s war planners.

“We’re aware this is a very contentious issue related to families,” Kenny said. “But it will have significant advantages in terms of creating a better relationship in Afghanistan.”

The Senators said it would also cut down on the number of soldiers who have to deploy several times to the country, and presumably ease the emotional burden on their families.

But the most contentious recommendation of the report, and the one least likely to be accepted by the Tories, is that Canadian soldiers and government officials try to make contact with the Taliban insurgency. The government has repeatedly rejected this course of action even though other NATO countries have made it a common practice.

“We’ve been very careful about it,” Kenny said, noting that Tory Senators objected to the recommendation. “We believe that these communications should take place only in circumstances where we think that some specific progress can be made.” even showed a nice picture of what reconciliation looks like with a picture of Taliban surrendering their weapons.

But a different picture has been painted of the Taliban intentions.

“In the daytime we are farmers; at night we are Taliban,” he said, smiling.

Recent news reports published across the world would suggest the insurgency in Afghanistan is close to being defeated. In particular, they have focused on the southern province of Helmand, where a surge in US troops has allowed Nato-led forces to take new ground.

But when The National interviewed two Taliban commanders this month, it heard, and saw, a radically different story.

In the spring of 2007, Ghafar and his colleague, Zahir Jan, travelled to Kandahar from their homes in Helmand, where they claimed innocent women and children had been buried under the rubble of buildings destroyed by air strikes. At the time, both said they were fighting to defend their religion, their country and their families.

Since then, the violence has continued unabated. The Taliban and foreign soldiers – most notably the British – have suffered heavy casualties. Thousands upon thousands of Afghan civilians have been forced to flee the fighting.

Given the intensity of the combat, two men who live through it on a daily basis could be forgiven for feeling at least a little weary. Yet, if anything, Ghafar and Zahir Jan appeared more relaxed and determined than they were a year ago.

Speaking on the condition that the location of the interview would not be revealed, they came across as happy and eager to fight. For them, each death – no matter whose side it is on – means they are a step closer to bringing the conflict to an end.

“You know, the Taliban and the Americans are as different as fire and water. Maybe the water will kill the fire or the fire will kill the water, but one of these things has to happen,” Zahir Jan said …

Offhandedly, they said the United States deserves to be attacked on its own soil and suggested the Taliban could eventually send suicide bombers to the United States. They said they were “thousands times more confident” of victory in Afghanistan than they had been before, thanks largely to growing support from the population and improved weaponry.

“We have very advanced rockets. You can split them into three parts and carry them on donkeys. Then you just walk along and when you see a convoy of troops you can fix them together and fire them very quickly,” Zahir Jan said.

“If the foreigners did not have their planes, then within five days I guarantee we would be in the streets of Kabul.”

Analysis & Commentary

It has been said that the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan now includes a mixture of drug runners, criminals, warlords, and Taliban.  True, as we have noted in The Disaggregation of the Taliban.  But as we have also noted, wheat is replacing poppy throughout Afghanistan as the money crop, and nothing stops the Taliban from extortion of farmers over the safe transport of wheat.  In fact, nothing has stopped the Taliban from extortion of wireless phone companies in Afghanistan.  The problem is not wheat, wireless phone companies or poppy.  The problem is the Taliban.

Although widely known for corruption and helping only a little in the campaign against the Taliban, the Karzai government is not why NATO and U.S. forces are in Afghanistan.  There are many corrupt governments in the world, but only a few of them have Taliban.  Criminality, drugs, corruption, lack of infrastructure, and a host of other things have managed to divert attention off of the real problem in Afghanistan.

When reconciliation with the Sunni insurgency began in Anbar, Shiekh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha and his tribe had already begun to fight al Qaeda.  Over the course of the next two years the Sunni insurgency would lay down arms, put on police uniforms, and maintain security for the population while working alongside Americans.  In Fallujah in 2007, the Iraqi Police worked hard to emulate and impress the Marines, whom they almost worshiped.  The most recent reconciliation involves more than 500 such fighters in Sunni enclaves within mostly Shi’a Balad, Iraq, these fighters also agreeing to be tried in court for any crimes.

What’s the difference?  The Sunni fighters in Iraq didn’t fight for religious reasons.  The compelling reasons were political and financial.  Any reconciliation with rogue elements in Afghanistan must target warlords, criminals and other non-religiously motivated people.  Rather than these elements, NATO is choosing the only group which will not ever reconcile due to their belief system – the Taliban.

Just like Baitullah Mehsud of the Tehrik-i-Taliban who has recently said that he wants to “fight against Americans,” the Afghan Taliban commanders see that the West and their world view are unable to be reconciled, and they want attacks on American soil again.

Unlike the Pakistani Taliban who are overt with their views, the Afghan Taliban are playing NATO for fools.  “In the daytime we are farmers; at night we are Taliban.”  Even if violence had essentially disappeared from the scene in Afghanistan, leading to the redeployment of NATO forces home, the problem will not have gone away.  The radical ideology remains, and not just in the countryside.  Secret Taliban cells are spreading lessons of jihad in Kabul University.

There exists a once in a generation opportunity to defeat one of the most dangerous, violent and insidious forces on the planet, but for the sake of temporary peace it seems that some are willing to stand down from the fight, pretending that the intentions of the Taliban are sincere.  While this game is futile and pointless, the real problem is that it is affecting strategy and wasting valuable and irreplaceable time in the campaign.  Thus, we play the game at our own peril.

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You are currently reading "Concerning the Peril of Negotiating with the Taliban", entry #1141 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Featured,Taliban,Tehrik-i-Taliban and was published June 11th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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