No international conference on Afghanistan would be complete without the leak of a memo to undermine it. The damage was done to today's conference in London by the publication of diplomatic cables from the US ambassador in Kabul. The star guest of today's conference, President Hamid Karzai, the man on whom too much of Washington's strategy rests, is, in Karl Eikenberry's words, an inadequate strategic partner who continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden. The cables were written in November and pre-date President Barack Obama's announcement of a surge. Since then, their author professed his unequivocal support for the mission before Congress. But that is not what his cables say. In arguing that more troops would only increase Afghan dependence and may delay the day when US troops can be withdrawn, they undermine the whole rationale of the surge. The leaking of the cables just before this conference goes beyond the realm of healthy debate. It can only attest to abiding divisions within the US administration itself.
So another conference starts "“ this is at least the sixth in nine years "“ with private doubts about strategy being expressed by the very people whose job is to promote it. As we all knew he would and despite speeches to the contrary, Mr Karzai has doggedly resisted attempts to reform his graft-riddled government. He comes to London with only half a cabinet in place, but having reaffirmed the appointment of General Abdul Rashid Dostum as his chief of staff, a man accused of serious human rights abuses. Zarar Ahmad Moqbel, the man who oversaw the most corrupt organisation in the government, the interior ministry, has gone up in the world. He is now in charge of combating the opium industry, the world's largest. It may be truer to say that he is now in charge of the opium industry. Two of the shadiest ex"'warlords, Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Karim Khalili, are vice-presidents. Thus far Mr Eikenberry's predictions about the behaviour of the Afghan president, after an election which was internationally discredited, have held true. Mr Karzai's real interest is in rewarding supporters and keeping the warlords onside. Having recognised his dodgy re-election, Mr Karzai's international backers have once again no real levers to pull against the Afghan president.
This has a bearing on the second plank of the London conference, an attempt to engineer new talks with the Taliban. The stage has been set for this by the removal of five former senior Taliban officials from a UN sanctions list, and Mr Karzai may attempt to steal the show by announcing a Loya Jirga, or an assembly of elders, to discuss talking to the Taliban. Without Mr Karzai in place, and without a surge, this may have had a chance of success, even though it would require enough senior Taliban to recognise that they too cannot win militarily, and there is scant evidence of that. With Mr Karzai in place the prospects of a breakthrough are slimmer still. In December 2007 he expelled a western official for trying just that. Michael Semple has written extensively about the value of negotiating with Taliban. Mr Semple believes a Belfast-style power-sharing agreement with the Taliban remains the only viable way out of a conflict that can not be won militarily. While the war rages, he argues, it becomes a cover for serial breaches of human rights on both sides, and removes accountability both by the government and the Taliban.
This is not the current model of reconciliation, which would be a means of splitting the footsoldiers from its leadership. Taliban commanders will not break with the person they regard as the symbol of resistance, their leader Mullah Omar. Real negotiations would not be an attempt to win the war by other means but a move away from it. The problem with the surge is that, far from persuading the Taliban that they cannot win, it gives them every incentive to fight on.
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28 Jan 2010, 12:31AM
The problem with the surge is that, far from persuading the Taliban that they cannot win, it gives them every incentive to fight on.
The real problem with any surge of troops is that it will give more targets to the Taliban to aim at, especially their main weapon is IED's.
The great British Empire and the Soviet Union both super powers of their time never defeated the Afghans, what makes you the that the American's will nine years on.
The only thing this new surge will lead to is more soldiers coming back in body bags, more Afghan civilians dead, and more regional instability and radicalisation, and a greater threat of further attacks in the West.
The only real solution to this an most conflicts is through a negotaited settlement, the sooner this starts the better for all.
28 Jan 2010, 12:43AM
28 Jan 2010, 12:45AM
28 Jan 2010, 1:00AM