'A DEAL WITH THE TALIBAN IS THE ONLY WAY OUT?' A REJOINDER TO AHMED RASHID
"In an army of 150,000 US and Nato soldiers in Afghanistan, one rogue soldier who massacres 16 civilians, including nine children, does not necessarily mean that the discipline and morale of the whole force is breaking down. However, when the spate of recent incidents is put together – US soldiers burning copies of the Koran, footage apparently showing US marines urinating on bodies of dead Taliban fighters and a series of accidental killings of civilians during US attacks on the Taliban – the situation looks far more grim. There can be no doubt that the western forces in Afghanistan are facing a crisis of confidence, across the Muslim world and also in their home countries.
The Afghan people are exhausted by a war that has gone on in one form or other since 1979, when most US soldiers now in Afghanistan were not even born. Increasing numbers of Afghans would agree with what the Taliban have been arguing for almost a decade: that the western presence in Afghanistan is prolonging the war, causing misery and bloodshed. The hundreds of civilians killed already this year across the country are almost forgotten now in the aftermath of the killing of children by a farengi, or foreigner.
Moreover, faced with an increasingly corrupt and incompetent government, Afghans are seeing fewer improvements on the ground. So-called “nation building” has ground to a halt, simple justice and rule of law is unobtainable and a third of the population is suffering from malnutrition. The people blame not just the Americans but equally Hamid Karzai and his inner circle, which gives him conflicting and contradictory advice, leading him to flip and flop on policy issues.
The Afghan president’s desire to seek a strategic partnership agreement with the US is becoming more and more unacceptable to the Afghan people. At the same time he also wants to make peace with the Taliban, but they have no desire for a pact with Washington. His dilemma, which he still refuses to understand, is that he can either ask for a long-term US presence or peace with the Taliban, but not both.
America is clearly also exhausted by the two wars it has waged in Iraq and Afghanistan – the latter becoming the longest war in US history. Officers and soldiers have done several tours of duty in both countries, while the wars themselves have been virtually ignored at home. Neither war has yielded the dividends that Washington once hoped for. Osama bin Laden may be dead but al-Qaeda’s beliefs have spread their net into many more countries since 2001, while the Taliban have proved to be far more resilient than western forces could conceive of a few years ago.
Yet the US military high command has been lobbying in Washington, insisting that some kind of victory in Afghanistan is still possible if only President Barack Obama would not withdraw so many troops so soon and if only Congress would keep the funding flowing. US generals have done their best to delay and undermine the still-weak hand played by the State Department in its efforts to get talks with the Taliban going. But now even the Republicans, many of whom have supported the military and condemned Mr Obama for daring to open talks with the Taliban, appear to be at a loss as to how to move forwards in Afghanistan.
After the spate of incidents this year, there should be no doubt in Washington that seeking a negotiated settlement to end the war with the Taliban as quickly as possible is the only way out. Mr Obama has to put his weight behind this strategy to ensure an orderly withdrawal and to give the Afghan people the chance of an end to this war. A power-sharing formula with the Taliban, which now appears increasingly unavoidable, and an accord with neighbouring states to limit their interference, will be key.
In 1989 it was America and Pakistan who refused to allow a political solution to end the fighting because they wanted not just the Soviets gone but also Moscow’s Afghan protégées led by Mohammad Najibullah. Instead he hung on for three years, resulting in a civil war. America cannot again leave Afghanistan with a civil war as its bequest to the Afghans. Washington, and Nato, must seek an end to the war before withdrawing their forces. Despite the tragic death of so many innocent children, this is still possible if there is a concerted diplomatic and political push".
Ahmed Rashid, "A deal with the Taliban is the only way out." The Financial Times. 13 March 2012, in www.ft.com.
"The US announcement that it will start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is causing consternation in Kabul.
Speaking at the Pentagon on January 4, US President George Bush confirmed that American forces in Afghanistan would be reduced from 19,000 to about 16,500 during 2006. Over the same timeframe US troop levels in Iraq will decline from 17 to 15 combat brigades.
Many Afghans are interpreting Bush's comments as laying the groundwork for a complete pull-out of American troops in Afghanistan, despite repeated assurances made by US officials that Washington "will never abandon" Kabul. In private conversations, senior Afghan officials are using harsh language in criticizing the Bush administration's decision. They see the withdrawal as driven by US domestic factors, namely the Bush administration's desire to bolster the Republican Party's prospects in congressional elections in late 2006. Republicans have been weakened by a widening corruption probe in Washington. Bringing troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan could help revive the Republican Party's image....
Over the past year, Taliban militants have posed an increasing security threat to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Insurgent attacks claimed the lives of about 1,500 Afghans and 90 Americans troops in 2005. In addition, Taliban-al Qaeda forces in 2005 began emulating tactics used by Islamic radicals in Iraq, namely the use of suicide bombers. On January 5, at least 10 people were killed when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated himself in Tarin Kot, capital of southern Uruzgen Province.
Local political analysts say that Afghanistan's stabilization hopes will depend on the government's ability to respond to the Taliban insurgency. At present, the Afghan government remains heavily dependent on NATO and US forces for security. On December 8, NATO announced that it would deploy 6,000 troops, including 4,000 British soldiers, in southern Afghanistan, where Taliban militants are most active. The announcement was undermined the next day, when Dutch officials revealed they were having second thoughts about the deployment of a 1,000-strong Dutch contingent. Eventually, officials in the Hague said the deployment would proceed, provided that the Dutch parliament ratified the move. Dutch opposition parties are opposed to deployment....
In his January 4 comments, Bush painted an upbeat picture of Afghan political conditions. "We've made steady progress on the road to democracy," Bush insisted. "Karzai got elected; there's a sitting parliament. It's amazing how far Afghanistan has come from the days of the Taliban [1996-2001]." While new political institutions exist, many political experts express concern about their ability to function effectively. For example, up to 40 percent of Afghan MPs reportedly have links to warlords and drug traffickers who have helped fuel the country's vicious cycle of violence for over two decades. Bush insisted that the "the international community is stepping up." However, many Afghans believe the international community has not fulfilled promises of assistance. Indeed, Kabul is experiencing a severe winter, featuring sporadic electricity supplies. In addition, Karzai's administration has seemed reluctant to take politically difficult steps to curb corruption and other problems hampering reconstruction".
Ahmed Rashid, "Afghan Officials Concerned About Pending US Pullout." EurasiaNet.6 January 2006, in www.eurasianet.org
Over the past fifteen years, Ahmed Rashid, has made himself the authority on the Afghanistan-Pakistan conundrum. Via series of books and articles, he has made himself the 'go-to' person on the problems posed by the troublesome and wretched region. Anyone who is interested in acquiring any deep knowledge of these two countries, must acquaint himself with the writings of Ahmed Rashid. With all that being said, I for one am not in the least taken-in by the current line that he has been trumpeting these past two to three years, that negotiations with the Taliban, with or without International participation will be the only possible 'solution' to the War in Afghanistan. I say this, as someone who looks forward to the almost complete withdrawal American and Western forces in the region. Why then do I say this? Simply put, there is absolutely no evidence that the Taliban, who have so far shown themselves completely unwilling to come to terms with either Afghanistan President Karzai or the Americans, while the latter and their allies have approximately one-hundred and fifty thousand troops in the country, will use the occasion of the withdrawal of said troops to come to some sort of modus vivendi with the former. There is absolutely nothing in the modus operandi of the Taliban in either past or present to suggest that they would see the occasion of the withdrawal of the Western forces as a time to come to reasonable terms with the current regime in Kabul. Based upon past form, it is evident to me, that the Taliban will use the occasion of the withdrawal of Western ground forces to launch a major offensive to destroy the existing Aghan government in Kabul.
With that being said, I for one do not advocate that there be a total withdrawal of American & Western forces from the country. Certainly 'special forces' and air squadrons, as well as drones, need to remain in Afghanistan. As well as a limited number of trainers and advisers in the various ministries. Recognizing of course that the latter element will remain at risk, as has been seen most recently. Unlike I presume Rashid, I believe that even sans Western ground forces, the Karzai regime, with the Western assistance outlined and with financial assistance continuing, and with the backing of the non-Pashtun majority of the country, can indeed remain in power over perhaps two-thirds to half of the country. Enough, I believe to prevent the Taliban from regaining power and possibly turning the country once again into a hotbed of International terrorist outrages and violence `a la 1997-2001. The real issue then is not 'negotiating with the Taliban', which essentially means negotiating terms of surrender. What has to be done, with or without Western ground forces is ensuring the survival of the Karzai regime and the maintenance of a semblence of stability. As Wadir Safi, a lecturer in law and political science at Kabul State University, thus providing a 'grounds eyes view' of the situation (unlike the safely residing in Europe, Rashid):
"The Americans must determine if they have fulfilled their job or not," Safi says. "The U.S. must think if they can really leave in 2013 or 2014. If they leave without reaching an agreement with the government and the insurgents, what will be the consequences of a withdrawal? If we can reach an agreement now, I would ask the Americans to go tomorrow, but if not, then they must stay here until they are sure that things will not become worse than they were 10 years ago, before they came." Leaving behind chaos in Afghanistan "will show that the U.S. is not a superpower" 1.
1. Quoted in: John Wendle, "Afghanistan: Rising Anger over American's rampage, but also fear of US departure." Time. 13 March 2012, in www.time.com.