Guns and Gear

Negotiating with the Taliban

Mike Piccione Editor, Guns & Gear
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The White House is hoping to end its ten year old war with the Taliban in Afghanistan through a political settlement. Let us all pray that the negotiations will be successful. It is past time to get our soldiers out of there. But as with most things in the Middle East, there is a little “catch” that complicates things and makes pulling out our troops hard to do. It is hard because the war didn’t start with political maneuvering. It started with the blowing up of the twin World Trade Center Towers in Manhattan. The war came in with a loud bang; it is unlikely to go out with a whimper.

Our viable options are few and unfortunate. There appear to be two: we must either find a way to militarily bring this war to a successful conclusion, or we can rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic and walk away. Those I talk to fear that any agreement with the Taliban will be reduced to a face saving maneuver. As soon as our forces are withdrawn the Taliban will politically outmaneuver Karzai’s government, trash the peace agreement with the United States and NATO, and reinstitute a totalitarian Muslim regime similar to the one that existed prior to the war.

Historically for the most part, Muslim countries have been ruled by pseudo-Islamic military gangs or by pseudo-military dictators. Control of these governments is, at best, shaky which further complicates efforts by the U.S. and its NATO Allies to negotiate any kind of a meaningful peace agreement with them. Additionally while Taliban leaders are supposedly cooperating with other Taliban leaders, in fact they are operating independently and each is fighting his own little war. That is, everyone’s involved to some degree, but no one is fully in charge of military operations.

Karzai, Prime Minister of Afghanistan, doesn’t trust the United States and we don’t trust him. Also, the Taliban leadership doesn’t trust Karzai and he in turn doesn’t trust them. He insists that in the negotiations he has authority to speak for the Taliban, which they dispute. So peace negotiations are scheduled to begin shortly in Qatar and we are not sure who we will be talking to.

Worse, we are on record as saying that the Taliban are terrorists and that we refuse to negotiate with terrorists. Therefore the Taliban must sever all their relations with terrorists before we can engage in peace negotiations with them. And we are not the only ones who have preconditions. The Taliban have three: formation of a pure – this probably means radical — Islamic government in Afghanistan; release of key Taliban prisoners; and a guarantee that once the treaty is signed U.S. and NATO troops will immediately pull out of Afghanistan.

The Obama Administration thinks, as a sign of good faith, that if they give in enough to the myriad Taliban field commanders, it will build Taliban confidence in the peace negotiations. To sweeten the pot, the U.S. is considering releasing some of the Taliban fighters from incarceration at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. What the U.S. State Department doesn’t fully understand is that no matter how many terrorist prisoners it lets go free, the Taliban will still never have confidence in anything the U.S. says or does. Taliban foreign policy is based on their warped view of Islam, not on what works or makes good sense.  No matter what we do, we Americans will always be infidels to them – until the end of the world. As the Taliban leaders see it, the establishment of Islam is their most important priority. It is also the most important priority of the Kabul government, no matter how much they may pretend otherwise.

The Taliban and the Kabul government consider the implementation of government plans and programs of secondary importance to Islam and insist that all governmental actions be in accordance with Islamic interests, not just with national interests. Additionally the Taliban is on record as saying that they will not follow the Afghanistan government’s directions if they think those directions conflict in the slightest with their understanding of the tenants and teachings of Islam.

Showing a total disregard for civility andgood faith, they are also on record as saying that they will continue to fight the U.S. and its NATO allies during the peace negotiations. That is, there will be no laying down of arms or cessation of hostilities while the peace talks are in process. Suicide bombers will still be doing their evil deeds throughout the Afghan provinces and Kabul, even while the Taliban leaders and Karzai’s government are talking of peace.

The Taliban resent that Afghanistan’s Prime Minister, Karzai, portrays them as subservient to his Afghan government in Kabul. They want to be seen as independent of Karzai, and if they can peacefully take control of his government, it will give the new Taliban government the appearance of worldwide legitimacy. So while they talk peace, the Taliban leadership is searching for a way to capture Kabul’s reins of power. Before the war they had forcefully seized power. This robbed them of the cloak of legitimacy, as flimsy as it would have been, and they don’t want to repeat that mistake.

They are also looking for a way to conclude a peace treaty with U.S. – led forces that will guarantee that all foreign armies will be withdrawn from Afghanistan not later than the end of 2014. Then somehow they hope to depose Karzai and his government. Even more complicating and troublesome for the Taliban is Afghanistan’s politically unstable, nuclear armed neighbor Pakistan, which could implode at any time — without notice.

As they did when fighting against the Russians, the Taliban will take help from any quarter, even the devil himself. So they have enlisted Iran as a necessary but unreliable ally. Iran is willing to help equip the Taliban with military supplies provided there is a satisfactory payoff for them far down the road. The Taliban suspect that that payoff will be the requirement to subordinate Afghan foreign policy to Iran’s foreign policy, after the Taliban have taken the reins of political power in Kabul.

All this doesn’t mean that the U.S.  should give up trying to bring the Afghan war to a satisfactory and peaceful conclusion. It just means that our efforts will continue to be complicated and difficult, and we will have to work much harder to achieve anything meaningful.

But what happens if we withdraw from world leadership and do nothing? Will the situation get better all by itself? Not hardly. Countries like Pakistan, Iran and China will openly work to foil our peace negotiation efforts, but that’s the nature of the beast. Still, nothing should be allowed to deter us from our efforts to bring peace and freedom to all of mankind.