Tuesday, July 20, 2010

White House shifts Afghanistan strategy towards talks with Taliban.

It's taken a long time for Washington to come around to this idea.

The White House is revising its Afghanistan strategy to embrace the idea of negotiating with senior members of the Taliban through third parties – a policy to which it had previously been lukewarm.

Negotiating with the Taliban has long been advocated by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and the British and Pakistani governments, but resisted by Washington.

The Guardian has learned that while the American government is still officially resistant to the idea of talks with Taliban leaders, behind the scenes a shift is under way and Washington is encouraging Karzai to take a lead in such negotiations.

"There is a change of mindset in DC," a senior official in Washington said. "There is no military solution. That means you have to find something else. There was something missing."

That missing element was talks with the Taliban leadership, the official added.

People forget that the Taliban were not actually the enemy at the start of all this. Bush invaded Afghanistan to capture bin Laden and to destroy al Qaeda. When he realised that this would not be possible, both he and Blair changed their language and started to talk of al Qaeda and the Taliban as if they were both the same thing.

Indeed, Blair - before the invasion - famously said that if the Taliban were to hand over bin Laden then they would be allowed to remain in power. And anyone with a memory of Russia's invasion of Afghanistan will well remember that Ronald Reagan referred to the Taliban as "the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers.”

So, it is not actually that outrageous for Obama to seek another way to end this conflict, certainly it is not without precedent.

The US has laid down basic conditions for any group seeking negotiations. They are: end all ties to al-Qaida, end violence, and accept the Afghan constitution.

A senior Pakistani diplomat said: "The US needs to be negotiating with the Taliban; those Taliban with no links to al-Qaida. We need a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan, and it will have to be negotiated with all the parties.

I have no idea whether or not this would be successful, but I do think that the US needs to start thinking outside the box. There was never going to be a purely military victory in Afghanistan, but withdrawal will be impossible until you know that the government you are leaving in place can survive. And that can't be guaranteed unless you know that it is at least as powerful as the forces opposing it.

To that end, these proposed talks make some kind of sense.

Click here for full article.

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