Ahmed Rashid update on Afghanistan, from an article written Jan. 27, 2010

Afghan narrative

Ahmed Rashid’s article in the February 25, 2010 issue of The New York Review of Books, provides us with concise picture of the present configuration of forces on the ground in Afghanistan as well as describing the opening created through a possible set of diplomatic moves which might be lumped together under the rubric, talking with the Taliban.

The points listed here are from Rashid’s article (read the article to get Rashid’s words rather than my interpretation), unless otherwise noted.

An illustrative historical note anchors the article:
February 1989 as the Soviet troops were being withdrawn from Afghanistan, Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze visited Islamabad to meet with Prime Minister Bhutto, the Pakistani army and the ISI (Interservices Intelligence), His goal was to attain approval for a temporary sharing of power between the Afghan Communist regime in Kabal and the Afghan Mujahideen in order to allow for a peaceful transfer of power to the Mujahideen and to prevent a civil war.

The ISI balked, as they were backing one of the seven Muujahideen leaders, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Americans were more intent on the celebration of the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan. The result of the failure to agree on a peaceful transition of power result in a decades long civil war, the destruction of Kabal, the emergence of the Taliban, the base of operations provided to Al-Qaeda, and now American casualties and the deaths of thousands of Afghan civilians.

Rashid says a similar moment is now at hand, in the question related to talks between the US, its allies and Afghan authorities and the Taliban. Important questions include the willingness of the U.S. and NATO to talk with the Taliban, will Karzai have enough credibility to participate in such talks and the ability to implement the eventual results of such talks, will the ISI side with their proteges, will the Taliban hardliners smelling a possible victory choose to simply wait out the eighteen months after which Obama has said U.S. forces will begin to leave?

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Present status:

The Taliban are now active in all parts of the country, with shadow governors in thirty-three of thirty-four provinces. They have infiltrated parts of the Afghan police and army. Development projects have ground to a halt in large parts of the country and a lack of security has forced nearly half the U.N. in Afghanistan staff to be relocated to Central Asia and Dubai.

Major General Michael Flynn, the NATO military chief  of  intelligence in Afghanistan described the U.S. intelligence in Afghanistan as ‘clueless and ignorant’.

The Taliban may be at its peak of power. They control no major population centers and most Afghans have no desire to see a return of a Taliban regime. Rashid says that the immediate future offers the possibility that the Taliban may wish to engage in negotiations.

While present military strategy aims at peeling away Taliban commanders and fighters without making substantial political changes, Washington is split on the question of negotiating with the Taliban. The CIA, White House, State and Defense take different views.

Washington believes that many Taliban rank and file and commanders are ready to leave but that the Taliban needs to be pushed back by military power before any Taliban will be won over.

The Taliban are showing signs of flexibility. They have indicated that they are taking a more nationalistic and patriotic tone, and that they are ‘ready to give legal guarantee if the foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan’.

Informal talks have been held among members of the Taliban and other players in the conflict, assisted by the Saudis, although without ISI participation, who are not trusted by both the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The U.S. is pressuring Pakistan to go after Afghan Taliban leaders, including Afghan Taliban leadership in Quetta and Karachi and as well as Taliban allies, such as Jalaluddin Haqqaniand Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in North Waziristan.

For a number of reasons, Pakistan is resisting, among which the most important may be that Pakistan looks upon the Afghan Taliban as allies in afghanistan after the Americans leave, when the U.S., leaders in Pakistan believe, the Americans will realign themselves with India, dropping Pakistan. In this view, this move would strength India’s presence in Afghanistan at Pakistan’s expense. Rashid adds that the Afghan Taliban ‘are more wary than friendly towards the ISI.

Pakistan, in a change in the official Pakistani position, has offered to assist in brokering talks between the Taliban, Karzai and the Americans. Although insisting that the ISI be involved. Given that the CIA and the Taliban and other countries as well as the Afghan NDS (National Directorate of Security do not trust the ISI, Pakistan’s role in eventual negotiations may be difficult.

Rashid notes that it is crucial that the Taliban-hostile and ISI-hostile non-Pashtun population in the north accept reconciliation with the Taliban. Lacking this acceptance, a civil war could break out as happened after the Soviets left in the 1990s. The army was insulted by the Bush adninistration’s decision to allow the anti-Pakistan Northern Alliance to take Kabul in 2001, and to turn a deaf ear to their requests to be included in consultations on the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. By treating all Afghan Pashtun as potential Taliban, the U.S. contributed to the radicalization of the Pashtun population in Pakistan.

Rashid includes suggestions, involving itegrating Afghanistan’s neigbours into the reconciliation process, involving the UN security Council in removing the names of Taliban leaders from a list of terrorists from 2001 and giving the Afghan government a formal mandate to negotiate with the Taliban,  involving NATO in providing security to Taliban and their families. Other suggestions are included (read the article) and he concludes by saying that lacking publicly announced policies the Taliban may conclude  that it is safer to wait the eighteen months til the Americans leave, which could lead to more civil war.

4 comments to Ahmed Rashid update on Afghanistan, from an article written Jan. 27, 2010

  • It’s ironic that while with the release of Suu Kyi Burma takes a step towards democracy Britain staggers away from it. Nobody in government here is doing what they promised when elected, nobody.

  • admin

    Hi, no plug-in for the comments, but the theme is the Atahualpa Theme if that helps.

  • Thank you for a very clear and helpful post. I am definitely a violator of many of these rules. I often find myself conflicted when writing a blog post because I see myself writing more than people want to read, but I feel that I have to do the subject matter justice by thoroughly covering it. I feel that by following some of these rules I end up cutting out important aspects to the discussion. I guess you have to find a balance.

    • admin

      Indeed, it is a fine balance between providing too much information and slighting the topic with too little information.
      My intent is to provide some framework for understanding events by attempting to place them in a context, thereby hopefully allowing the reader to create his or her own understanding.

      I list all my sources so that people can refer to them and not depend on my version.

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