Ever since Obama admitted the US was not winning in Afghanistan and broached the possibility of reaching out to the “moderate” Taliban, there has been a flurry of responses weighing in his odds on both sides. Obama bases his approach on the apparent success of peeling away the moderates from the extremists in Iraq. I say apparent because his assumption ignores the ethnic cleansing of Shias which led to “peace” in the much touted Anbar province [where the surge “worked”] as well as the accelerated ethnic cleansing of Sunnis which took place in Baghdad. In the words of Tom Ricks, military reporter: “And yes, another reason Baghdad is quieter is that ethnic cleansing has been completed in much of the city.”
Then there was the fake sheik who represented the “moderate” elements and the duplicity of the preceding administration, which was talking to dead people while fighting fictitious enemies. Nevertheless, the novel notion of a dialogue to achieve resolution cannot be underscored enough. The UN Envoy to Afghanistan is open to the idea but recommends talking to all the Taliban as it is his opinion that a fragmented approach will fail. This validates Rory Stewarts articulate presentation of the reasons why the Iraq approach is doomed to fail in Afghanistan: “The Taleban… do not have mass movements behind them. When we talk about driving the Taleban to the table, we forget that these groups are more insubstantial and fragmented than we acknowledge. The Kabul Government lacks political depth or legitimacy; the Taleban is elusive…”
Afghan opposition leaders, analysts and writers have also expressed their skepticism, maintaining that as long as Karzai’s government appears weak and ineffective, such approaches would lead nowhere
“I don’t know of a single peace process that has been successfully negotiated from a position of weakness or stalemate.”-Ashraf Ghani, former finance minister
“Obama’s comment resemble a dream more than reality,” said Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst who has written a book on the Taliban.
“Where are the so-called moderate Taliban? Who are the moderate Taliban?” asked Mozhdah, who was an official in both the Taliban and the Karzai governments.
Gen. David Petraeus, inflated by his “success” in Iraq would nevertheless like to apply the same strategy in Afghanistan and “has been a strong supporter of the strategy of trying to divide the Afghan insurgency by offering money and jobs to those willing to accept the government in Kabul. He has said that his strategy of outreach to what he has described as “reconcilables” among the insurgents in Iraq might be applicable in Afghanistan as well.”
While the US administration muddles around the possible outcome of adding more arms to the turmoil, the Afghan government, alongwith Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is already holding talks with the Taliban. Ironically, Taliban officials blame the US government and NATO for impeding these talks and inhibiting resolution between the Taliban and Afghan government.
A former top Taliban official says Afghans blame NATO and the U.S., not Taliban insurgents, for the mounting civilian deaths. And, says, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the international forces should step aside to let the Kabul government and Afghan military negotiate a settlement to the war with the Taliban. Mullah Zaeef, who became the public face of the Taliban regime as it collapsed in late 2001, says the Afghan government wants to reach a peaceful solution to the ongoing fighting with the Taliban and other insurgents, but is not being allowed to do so as NATO and the U.S. are firmly in control of military operations. “They have no power, they have no independence to negotiate,” said the mullah, a former confidant of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. “The foreigners should let the people of Afghanistan decide. If they want to talk to the Taliban, the foreigners should not interfere.” Mullah Zaeef spent almost four years in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay after being arrested in Pakistan in January 2002. He was released at the request of the Afghan government, which is trying to work with “good Taliban” as part of a reconciliation program.
In all this hoopla, the real victims of the war continue to suffer and joke about their helplessness in the face of the events over which they have little or no control.
“Who is there?”
“It’s U.S. Special Forces.”
“What do you want?”
“We are looking for Mr. Moderate Taliban to talk to our leader, Mullah Obama.”
“There is no one here but us, the real Taliban; we are bearded, armed, and we don’t allow our girls to go to school or go outside.”
“It’s ok, he still wants to talk to you if you only oppress your own women and don’t attack us.”
So whats the solution? Is there a way out of this cesspool? Shazia Rafi offers a way to locate the “moderate” Taliban. Here criteria? Treatment of women. Based on the premise that the quality of a country is determined by the way it treats its women, she has offered a list of recommendations by which the Obama government can successfully locate moderates to deal with.
- Any leader whose own daughters are being educated without restriction on grade level or subjects: a moderate;
- Any leader whose mother, sisters, wife are educated without restriction on grade level or subjects: a moderate;
- Any leader who is willing to take the women and girls of his family to a male physician if he is the doctor on duty at the hospital/clinic: a moderate;
- Any leader whose female family members have paid employment or are self-employed: a moderate;
- Any leader who has killed or advocated killing of individuals or groups that disagree with his viewpoint: not eligible for moderate status.