Diplomacy, defense and development.
The three Ds that have made up the West’s strategy in the war in Afghanistan are now starting to pay dividends nearly six years after the US-led invasion toppled the brutal Taliban regime. Earlier this month, greatly underreported by the media but ground-breaking nevertheless, the Taliban signaled its readiness to start peace negotiations with the Kabul government, indicating a setback if not defeat. The Taliban’s preparedness to discuss peace, dropping its long-standing demand that NATO troops must leave the country first, came only two days after Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, said he was willing to hold talks.
“For the sake of national interests…we are fully ready for talks with the government,” Yousuf Ahmed, a Taliban spokesman, was quoted as saying.
This striking and significant breakthrough in the Afghanistan conflict came after last month’s “jirga” (tribal meeting) in Kabul. Described as a “peace jirga” by one observer, this important gathering was made up of hundreds of members of different tribes from both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Naturally, the naysayers in the media said this jirga was meaningless, since the Taliban, who were not invited, did not participate. But the fact that so many tribes took part probably persuaded the Islamist organization to approach the peace table, since its allies and fighters in its war against the central government come from many of these same tribes, who now appear to be switching allegiance.
The main reason given for the ideologically inflexible Taliban’s preparedness to talk peace now is because the war is deadlocked. The defense has held. This was supposed to be the year that the extremist Muslim group was to drive NATO troops from Afghanistan, capture Kabul and reestablish its rule there. One Pakistani analyst said a successful offensive this year was “a point of honor” with the Taliban. But this decisive campaign, codenamed Ghazwatul Badr after a battle the Prophet Mohammed fought, never materialized, helped by the fact NATO and Afghan forces killed its commander last spring. (http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=2E7A4B89-D83F-4B1C-BA51-78E72EFD3AB6 )
Due to this failure and lack of military results overall, many Taliban-hired tribal fighters have drifted back to their villages. Like many Afghans, non-Taliban and Taliban, they are simply tired of war after so many years. And seeing this military stalemate, their tribal leaders are deserting the Taliban cause.
As well, the Taliban is losing heavily whenever it tries to stand up to NATO troops and the Afghan National Army in battle. The first two weeks of September saw more than two hundred of the enemy killed with negligible losses on the allied side. One military analyst says Taliban formations are destroyed regularly now. This causes the surviving fighters, who are better paid than government troops, to return home and warn other village men not to accept the Taliban’s “poisoned money”, since they probably will not live to spend it.
NATO’s success and the Taliban’s inability to confront it head on has caused the extremist Islamic organization additional problems, since it has had to rely more and more on suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices. One analyst claims there have been ten times more suicide bombings this year than two years ago. But both terrorist killing methods have caused insignificant damage to NATO, murdering and alienating mostly civilians whose death rate is up 50 per cent this year.
Afghan locals are also getting tired of the Taliban’s violence and brutality, which, for example, caused many schools in southern Afghanistan not to open this year, affecting 200,000 students. Besides assassinating humanitarian workers and government employees, such as teachers who teach girls, individual acts of inexplicable and unspeakable Taliban cruelty must also be turning people against the terrorist organization. Canadian troops in southern Afghanistan, for example, this year entered a village where the Taliban had cut off the head of a nine-year-old boy for having given bread to government policemen and killed his father who tried to intervene. The Taliban’s support in this village, one can safely say, is now probably non-existent.
Even the Afghan police, criticized for their performance and corruption, are now experiencing some success and are receiving better training as part of NATO’s development strategy. Government policemen recently killed three Taliban commanders apparently involved in the kidnapping of the Korean missionaries. As well, a local man trusted the police enough to tip them off about the location of a big shipment of arms from Iran that was confiscated.
The Afghan National Army, which has performed well in operations against the Taliban, is continuing to develop with better training as well. One hundred NCOs were selected and trained in Jordan for six months and served as trainers for five commando battalions now with the army, for which there were no lack of volunteers. And in the all-important civilian area, according to the Kabulk-based Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, there are 45,000 projects underway to improve the quality of life for Afghan civilians who live in one of the poorest and most war-damaged countries in the world.
While there obviously is still much work to do, it is now all-important that NATO countries stay the course in Afghanistan, especially since the Taliban’s willingness to talk peace indicates all is not well with their cause, thanks in large part to NATO troops. With this latest breakthrough, now is not the time for countries like the Netherlands and Canada to reconsider extending their missions there and instead make a long-term commitment. To do otherwise would be a grave mistake and negate the sacrifices already made. Any indication of western war weariness would only strengthen the enemy’s hand. Besides, the last time the West walked away from Afghanistan after the war against the Soviets, a terrorist state arose that led to 9/11. For humanitarian and strategic reasons, this must never be repeated.
With that said, like with the Maoist guerillas now in peace negotiations in Nepal, no one is under any illusion as to the Taliban’s barbarous, uncompromising nature and its goal, namely, to destroy the government and reestablish their brutal rule. But like with the doctrinaire Sandinistas in Nicaragua, face-to-face meetings are the best way to start a process that will stop the unrelenting savagery of the war and build a safe and viable state for all Afghans. One Pakistani writer optimistically predicts a peace agreement by next spring, as the Pakistani government is also squeezing the Taliban in its base areas in Pakistan. If this is truly the case, then all that will be left to say to our troops is: “Well done!”