President Obama wants to open negotiations with moderate factions of the Taliban. On first reflection, that sounds reasonable. Something like this worked in Iraq, after all. Obama says that “part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq.” And “there may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and the Pakistani region,” although he grants that “the situation in Afghanistan is, if anything, more complex.”
And it is, for at least two reasons.
First, the Sunni insurgents among whom General Petraeus was able to gain confidence had turned against the al-Qaeda elements for their own reasons. Al-Qaeda in Iraq had forced themselves into the communities, onto the tribes, and even demanded sheiks’ daughters in marriage. Second, Petraeus had enough troops to provide local security to the former insurgents and their tribal leaders.
Neither of those conditions pertains in Afghanistan. There are far too few American troops to provide local security beyond the capital city, and the Taliban are strongest amongst many of the mountain tribes.
And who are these moderate Taliban? Where can they be found? Waheed Mozhdah, the director of the Afghan Foreign Ministry’s Middle East and Africa department when the Taliban were in power, dismisses the President’s hopes as “a dream more than reality,” asking derisively: “Where are the so-called moderate Taliban? Who are the moderate Taliban?” Newspaper editor Muhammad Qaseem Akhgar declared: “‘Moderate Taliban’ is like ‘moderate killer.’ Is there such a thing?”
Obama offered no details as to why he believed in these fantastical creatures, but Vice President Joe Biden, ever helpful, chimed in with some statistics manifesting his confidence in their existence. “Five percent of the Taliban is incorrigible,” he explained, “not susceptible to anything other than being defeated. Another 25 percent or so are not quite sure, in my view, of the intensity of their commitment to the insurgency. Roughly 70 percent are involved because of the money.” He didn’t explain how he arrived at these figures, but one would think that if they were remotely accurate, we would see some evidence of dissension within Taliban ranks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with moderate elements objecting to their colleagues’ more extreme behavior.
Last Friday, for example, Taliban commander Mohammed Ibrahim Hanafi told CNN that the Taliban considered foreign aid workers to be spies, and was planning to execute them. “Our law,” he declared, “is still the same old law which was in place during our rule in Afghanistan. Mullah Mohammad Omar was our leader and he is still our head and leader and so we will follow the same law as before.” That law includes prohibiting the education of girls, destroying girls’ schools all over the country, and even throwing acid in the faces of girls who dare to try to get an education. The Taliban in the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan has bombed or burned down around 300 girls’ schools, affecting over 100,000 students. And in Afghanistan over 600 schools have not opened this year because they could not guarantee their students’ security.
There is no record of any moderate Taliban elements speaking out against either the execution of foreign aid workers or the closing of girls’ schools and the terrorizing of female students.
The Taliban have also targeted police stations -- because they are considered outposts of the central government in Kabul -- as well as video and CD stores, since Islamic law forbids music and images of human beings. Pakistan’s News International reported last month that “two police stations, 12 police posts, 80 video centres, around 300 CD shops, 25 barbershops, 24 bridges, 15 basic health units, an electricity grid station and a main gas supply line were either destroyed or severely damaged” by the Taliban as it has moved in recent months to gain control of Swat -- which was once a thriving tourist spot.
There is no record of any moderate Taliban elements speaking out against any of this, or lifting a finger to stop it. One would think that if these reasonable elements who can be negotiated with really constituted over two thirds of those who identify themselves as Taliban, as Biden claimed, there would be some trace of their existence somewhere -- even a minute indication that they dissented from the harsh vision of draconian Sharia law that the Taliban imposed upon Afghanistan when it was in power in Kabul, and which it continues to impose upon those areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan that it currently controls.
Next week, expect Obama to announce that he plans to start talks with Santa Claus and unicorns.