Monday, October 15, 2007
As British troops are being withdrawn from Iraq, the military presence in southern Afghanistan is to be bolstered in the next few months by the deployment of the Parachute Regiment and new Eurofighter/Typhoon fighter-bombers.
At the same time, however, British officials have concluded that the Taliban is too deep-rooted to be eradicated by military means. Following a wide-ranging policy review accompanying Gordon Brown's arrival in Downing Street, a decision was taken to put a much greater focus on courting "moderate" Taliban leaders as well as "tier two" footsoldiers, who fight more for money and out of a sense of tribal obligation than for the Taliban's ideology.
Such a shift has put Britain and the Karzai government at odds with hawks in Washington, who are wary of Whitehall's enthusiasm for talks with what they see as a monolithic terrorist group. But a British official said: "Some Americans are coming around to our way of seeing this."
I'm afraid I don't believe that Washington 'hawks' think that the Taliban are a "monolithic terrorist group", because they have the same information that the British government has, but then that's the kind of uninteresting shibboleth you have to revert to when you don't have any proper analysis of their strategy. Suppose Washington is unconvinced that bringing Taliban leaders into the government will have any substantial impact on the resistance they're facing? Suppose they're concerned that bringing 'moderate' Taliban into the government will both legitimise the military opposition and undermine the puppet government's supposed crucial advantage, which is that however murderous and venal it is, it is not the Taliban? Suppose they're worried it will undermine the evangelising moralism with which they sounded the launch of the invasion? Suppose their warlord friends are opposed to it? Suppose they don't feel the need to negotiate, since they can easily escalate the bombing?
As for the UK, what is guiding its strategy? Jason Burke's interesting report discusses the contours of this multi-layered war, as it unfolds in an increasingly autonomous network of warlord-controlled territories that could comprise a state in itself, an area that the occupiers are committed to placing under the firm control of a client regime which they think they will require a few decades to effect. He relates a widespread recognition by the occupiers that the Taliban have fought them to a standstill. Given this, the attempt to incorporate leading Taliban - who, after all, were allies not all that long ago - is only logical. It would only be puzzling if you thought that the occupiers wanted Afghanistan to be a Human Rights Protectorate, the global hub of women's liberation, or even a free and independent state. However, if the last six years weren't enough to disabuse you of that notion, then your delusions will undoubtedly survive any incursion of reality, however traumatic. Taliban leaders, for their part, have demands, which include control of most of the south and the withdrawal of the occupation. A national unity government, then, in which the one-eyed man could again be king? I doubt it. More likely is that a segment of the Taliban will be wooed, but the guerilla war will continue on the basis of grass-roots opposition to the current regime.
Meanwhile, you may be interested to know that despite the overwhelming opposition of Germans, the Grand Ruling Class Coalition has voted to remain in occupation for at least another year - and, as many predicted, the Green Party dismissed the vote against continued occupation at their recent national conference and voted to prolong the committment to ISAF. Josckha Fischer has, predictably enough, attacked his own party for slipping toward its pacifist roots. The only party now representing German people on this, as on so many key issues, is the Left Party. It is telling that the mildest efforts by the right-wing SPD leader Kurt Beck to shift party policy slightly to the left of Merkel's agenda of welfare cuts has faced a savage rebuke from the former party chairman and vice-chancellor. The SPD has been in straight decline for several months and it now polls less than 30% of the popular vote, but any alternative to the neoliberal agenda is apparently a threat to electoral credibility.