AFGHANISTAN: WHICH WAY FORWARD?
"In a country with extreme poverty that has been at war for decades, there will also be no peace without reconciliation among former enemies. I have no illusions that this will be easy. In Iraq, we had success in reaching out to former adversaries to isolate and target AL Qaeda. We must pursue a similar process in Afghanistan, while understanding that it is a very different country.
There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who have taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course. That is why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province. As their ranks dwindle, an enemy that has nothing to offer the Afghan people but terror and repression must be further isolated. And we will continue to support the basic human rights of all Afghans – including women and girls".
The President of the United States, 27 March 2009, see: www.state.gov.
At the present time, when there is a lot of blithe talk about 'new strategies' and 'new ways forward', in the morass of Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is a useful reminder that the world was not (contrary to what one hears occasionally on both sides of the Atlantic) 'created anew' on the 21st day of January Anno Domini 2009. One of the new courses that the new American Administration is said to be eager to pursue is an endeavor to split off 'moderate', 'pragmatic' or simply 'opportunistic' segments of the Taliban from the more Al-Qaeda inclined core leadership grouping. The thinking being that many if not much of the Taliban's more recent recruits and members are not really ideologically committed to the ideals of the group, and, that it is quite possible to follow the 'Iraqi model', `a la the splitting off of the Sunni tribes in 2007 and 2008 from the hard-core 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq' element. The only problem is that the parallels are rather inexact at best, with a closer analysis of the two situations indicating that in point of fact, while such a 'splittist' model of divida et impera, has always worked in Iraq (the late dictator Iraqi Saddam Hussein being a past-master of such tactics), there is not nearly the same experience in Afghanistan. As the American academic, Mark Katz, has recently noted:
"The problem for the United States in applying the Iraqi model to Afghanistan is that a key element is lacking. While Iraq’s Sunni tribes saw al Qaeda in Iraq and similar movements as dominated by outsiders (i.e., non-Iraqis), the Taliban are drawn largely from the Pashtun tribes on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border. The Taliban, then, are not seen as outsiders by many Afghans, but are viewed an indigenous movement. Pashtuns in particular see the Taliban as their champions, not as a threat. The sharp split between indigenous tribesmen and foreign jihadis that the United States was able to exploit in Iraq does not exist in Afghanistan".
Mark N. Katz, "Afghanistan: Talking To The Taliban Unlikely To Succeed at Present", in www.eurasianet.org
Indeed, perhaps the major difference is that while the Sunni tribes which abandoned the insurgency never had the slightest prospects of winning their war against both the Americans and the Shiites of Iraq, and, in effect faced up to this prospect and accordingly changed sides, the Pashtun tribes who support the Taliban are hardly in the same position. For the following reasons: a) Pashtuns are the largest national grouping in the country; b) the Taliban (and ergo the Pashtuns as well to some extent), currently have the wind at their backs, and are to all appearances winning the war against both the government in Kabul (such as it is) and the Americans and their allies. Why should those 'moderate', Pashtun elements associated with the Taliban abandon the latter at this juncture? As Katz puts it, it is just as easy to imagine that:
"the Taliban may be able to use talks to turn the tables on Washington by exposing and exploiting differences among the United States, other NATO members, as well as Afghan, and Pakistani governments".
In short, in the absence of a convincing strategy to 'win the war,' on the ground in Afghanistan, there does not appear to be any likely way of attracting and splitting the Taliban. It is only when the Americans and their allies succeed on the ground, that they will be able to split off, and, detach the moderate from the extremist elements in the Taliban. Right now, that is a merely forlorn hope.