Afghanistan is losing time for a peaceful solution – and the Taliban know it

Headlines of the past decade in Afghanistan have been about the bloodshed, but behind them lies political failure at every level – Published on The Guardian, by Declan Walsh, Oct. 7, 2011.

Ten years ago, as the first American bombs fell on Afghanistan, a Pashtun tribal leader slipped across the Pakistani border riding a motorbike. He wore a loosely tied turban, was accompanied by three companions and carried a CIA-donated satellite phone. His name was Hamid Karzai … // 

… Every season brought a new initiative – counter-narcotics, building the justice system, rooting out corruption. At first western forces demobilised Afghan militias, then they started to arm them. Diplomats attended fundraising events in Tokyo, Berlin and London, trying to maintain flagging interest. The term “Afghanisation” – putting Afghan soldiers, civil servants or policemen up front – became an article of shaky faith.

But no amount of money or soldiers seemed capable of patching up the deeply dysfunctional relationship at the heart of the affair. Anger and frustration turned to resentment and deep mistrust on both sides. Diplomatic cables from 2009 released through WikiLeaks showed the US ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, describing Karzai as a “paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation building”. Another cable noted that Karzai’s deputy, Ahmad Zia Massoud, had been questioned after arriving in Dubai with $52m in cash – raising questions about financial propriety at the highest levels of government.

The Obama “surge” of two years ago, bringing the US contingent to more than 100,000 troops, was supposed to rescue the situation. It succeeded in part. Western troops now control a greater swath of southern Afghanistan than they have for years; Taliban violence there is receding. Yet the fight has simply shifted to the mountainous east, along the border with Pakistan’s tribal belt.

The area is controlled by the notorious Haqqani network – the tribal jihadi clan based out of north Waziristan, and recently the subject of friction between the US and the Pakistani military. The US accuses Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service of supporting the Haqqanis, who carried out the daring 13 September attack on the US embassy. The Pakistanis say they don’t know what the US wants – to make peace with the insurgents, or to fight them.

Amid the confusion, the one sure thing is that, by the end of 2014, the US and Britain will have withdrawn most of their troops. Talk of an “endgame” may be premature: informed officials say that between 10,000 and 20,000 US soldiers will remain behind to support Karzai’s government.

But will it survive? The prospect of talks with the Taliban has already resurrected old ethnic tensions; grave talk of civil war runs quietly in the corridors of diplomacy. Karzai periodically says he would like to sit down with the Taliban leaders, as he once did 10 years ago. The question now is whether that would solve Afghanistan’s conflict, or propel it into a new phase. (full long text).

Links:

Implementing the resolution, by Khalid Aziz, Oct. 8, 2011;

All-Party Conference APC, named here/Oct. 8, and in IntelliBriefs on Oct. 1, 2011;

Warning to Pakistan will hurt Afghanistan stability efforts, by Reuters, Oct. 8, 2011;

Taliban on en.wikipedia;

Deobandi Movement on en.wikipedia;

Pakistan comics deflect Taliban with ridicule, Oct. 7, 2011;

Afghanen stellen sich auf die Rückkehr der Taliban ein, 7. October 2011.

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