America, Britain negotiating with the Taliban

In the making: a pact with the devil

“This time, we will not walk away from you.” Thus Tony Blair in November, 2001, at the end of the short and muscular campaign that drove the barbarous Taliban from power. “You, the people, must agree your own government, and your own future, but we, the coalition, must give you the help and support that you need as you seek to rebuild your troubled country, and that support will be forthcoming.” [Economist]

Involvement in Iraq has caused the United States and Britain to suffer a general Afghan amnesia, which along with NATO’s apathy has caused Afghanistan to return to lawlessness and warlordism. General elections, scheduled for September, are likely to throw up a result strongly influenced by the gun. Alternately, the prevailing lawlessness may make holding of elections impossible, causing them to be postponed yet again.

After bringing down the Taliban regime and a bombing campaign that reduced much of the country to just two-dimensions, the least the US and NATO could have done is to improve security: the international community, led by the United States, has not only failed to deliver basic security to Afghanistan, but also have gone extremely slow on their promise of economic and development aid.

In fact—and though frustrated ISAF officials utter the acronym almost reverently—the PRT model was not meant for peacekeeping. It was designed by the coalition as a public-relations exercise, in a bid to compensate Afghans for kicking in their doors and trampling their fields in searches for Taliban fighters. The coalition’s dozen American-run PRTs have built schools across southern Afghanistan, but often where they are not needed, aid workers say—and without improving security. [Economist]

Instead of correcting the situation by establishing a democratic rule, the United States and its allies have decided to chase a chimera – a pact with ‘moderate’ Taliban elements. To this end, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has been negotiating with Taliban elements using Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a leader of Pakistan’s Islamic fundamentalist parties as a go-between.

Sibghatullah Mojeddedi was very blunt in his views about Pakistan’s involvement in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. “If Pakistan is sincere it can stop all cross border movement of the Taliban and al Qaeda members in one day”, was his comments to the author. Though he, himself, has been a religious teacher and comes from a very respected religious family of Kabul, he believed that Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Maulana Samiul Haq are the main culprits who built up and continue to support the Taliban. Gul Rahman Qazi, head of Law and Political Science Department of the NCPR had also pointed out that some of the terrorist leaders are in other countries, presumable meaning Pakistan. [The News]

The irony is, unlike those in Baghdad, many of Kabul’s citizens see the Americans as liberators. The prospect of the Taliban’s return to power certainly does not enthuse them; American credibility is bound to take a severe beating if indeed the Taliban were to be politically rehabilitated with American connivance. Another chapter in this tragedy of errors can be avoided if the Bush administration stays the course in Afghanistan. The return of the Taliban will be seen as another success for global jihad and another defeat for the United States.

Osama bin Laden and 9/11 were the results of United States choosing expediency and withdrawing its attention from Afghanistan in the 1990s. Taking the same route again is not likely to produce very different results.

“There is no doubt that the US has tried its level best in the last year to pursue the Taliban to give up the resistance and be a part of the Kabul government, but the question in the Taliban mind is: ‘How serious is the US really?'” commented the former director general of (Pakistan’s) ISI, retired Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul.

“Does the US really want a truce, or does it only want to engage the Taliban to buy some time? If the US is really serious, why does it not release their [Taliban’s] high-profile leaders in Guantanamo Bay as a goodwill gesture, and then invite the Taliban for talks?” said Gul.

“One must always bear in mind that the dynamics of many things have changed, but in the present Taliban movement there is no question of a Taliban without Mullah Omar. Similarly, if the US wants to speak to the Taliban, it has to keep in mind that Afghans have never tolerated a foreign presence on their land, therefore they would have to have their exit strategy ready before any real round of talks could start,” said Gul. [Asia Times]