Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Our view on Afghanistan: Talk to the Taliban!?!
Negotiations might help as part of broad strategy to defeat al-Qaeda.
[[Is McCain now way to the right of 'w'!?!: normxxx]]

A new, once preposterous, idea seems to be gaining ground in Washington: Negotiate with the Taliban. Yes, that's right— the fundamentalist Islamic extremists who once ruled Afghanistan, who harbored 9/11 masterminds Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri and their terrorist training camps before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, and who continue to be al-Qaeda's allies and protectors.

After the invasion,Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders fled to Pakistan's wild northwest region, where they launch attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence agencies say any new attack on the U.S. would likely originate in the Taliban/al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan. Yet opening communications with the Taliban is an option being considered by a range of leaders and experts, including the former U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, who's now in charge of Iraq and Afghanistan as head of Central Command.

As naive as the idea might sound, it is evidence of hard-learned pragmatism. If the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have taught anything, it's that they cannot be won by military might alone. This year's surge of U.S. troops into Iraq succeeded because it was part of a broader strategy that included working with, and paying, Sunni tribal leaders to turn against al-Qaeda in Iraq— the same leaders who had just recently been at the heart of the insurgency killing U.S. troops.

Assuming the Taliban would respond similarly is a stretch. Unlike the Iraqi Sunnis, the Taliban shares much of al-Qaeda's rigidly brutal, medieval brand of Islam. That said, a new strategy is needed for Afghanistan. In fact, Petraeus is preparing one to be ready for the new president in February. John McCain and Barack Obama both favor increasing troop levels, but neither has defined a strategy to match the one in Iraq. Nor has President Bush, even though the Afghan war is deteriorating so fast that pessimism is widespread.

Talking to the Taliban might be a long shot, but perhaps not quite as long as some suspect if the goal is simply to get its leaders to betray al-Qaeda. On Tuesday, Pakistani and Afghan political and tribal leaders agreed to establish contacts with the Taliban. Saudi Arabia has already facilitated informal talks.

Further, the Taliban is not monolithic. Reports out of Afghanistan reflect a splintering among Taliban leaders, with some offering to take part in a democratic system and allow girls to go to school. It's not unimaginable that they might, with the right pressure or incentives, help deliver al-Qaeda leaders. The point is that no options are possible unless explored.

Talking with some Taliban representatives would not be a substitute for more troops. Agreements are best forged from a position of strength, and that is not the current reality. The U.S. also would need to be clear in its priorities. Three things are non-negotiable: the capture or killing of bin Laden and Zawahri; the shutting down of camps in Pakistan; and ultimately the destruction of al-Qaeda. A full-fledged Afghan democracy, while desirable, might not be possible.

The U.S. badly needs a winning strategy in Afghanistan— one that does not cripple the U.S. economy and military for many more years in pursuit of the unattainable. Talking to the Taliban? Time to hold our noses and at least be open to the idea.

No comments:

Post a Comment