Nine years and tens of thousands of deaths later, it is the Americans that are begging the Taliban for talks
In an incredible twist of events that would qualify as a script for a spy thriller, the Americans are publicly claiming credit for “succeeding” in convincing the Taliban, especially some members of the Quetta Shura, to negotiate a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan. Incredible because had the US wanted, this deal was on the table as far back as September/October 2001 before a single shot was fired or a single person killed in Afghanistan.
Taliban leader Mulla Muhammad Omar had offered to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US if Washington provided proof of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. He also offered to meet American officials to discuss the issue. In his customary arrogance, then US President George Bush had declared: “We will see you in Kabul.” A few weeks later the bombing started. Just before the US attack, a Western reporter had asked Mulla Omar about his fate. “Afghanistan is a vast country,” he replied. “We will fight them in the mountains, the valleys and villages until we have driven them out of Afghanistan like all previous invaders.” At the time, Mulla Omar’s statement was greeted with great derision.
Nine years and tens of thousands of deaths later, it is the Americans that are begging the Taliban for talks. On October 18, the Americans held a briefing in Rome titled “Transition in Afghanistan” at which in addition to NATO members and representatives of 10 Muslim countries, a senior official of Iran’s foreign ministry was also invited. Muhammad Ali Ganezadeh attended the briefing presented by General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan. For months, the Ameri-cans have been saying they want to engage the Iranians to find a safe exit from Afghanistan. Iran has very specific concerns relating to Afghanistan. Its long porous border is used for illegal immigration as well as drug smuggling.
The US withdrawal plan is predicated on training enough Afghan soldiers and policemen to take over security responsibilities. This is a tall order and may never be realized but given the intensity of resistance and rising US- NATO casualties, there is no escaping the hard reality of fleeing the Hindu Kush mountains, exactly as Mulla Omar had predicted nine years earlier.
The Americans have been talking up another strategy: bombing Taliban positions as a way to cajole them to the peace table. Typical of these was Dexter Filkins’ piece in the New York Times (October 14) that American pilots were pounding the Taliban with 2,100 bombs and missiles. Citing a figure of 700 strikes in September alone — “an increase of nearly 50 percent over the same period last year,” Filkins claimed that this had “persuaded” some Taliban leaders to agree to hold talks, all part of Petraeus’s effort to “break the military stalemate.” Petraeus has also increased raids by Special Forces units that murder people suspected of being members of the Taliban or their sympathizers.
“In recent weeks, American officials have spoken approvingly in public of new contacts between Taliban leaders and the Afghan government. On Wednesday [October 13], they acknowledged their active involvement by helping Taliban leaders travel to Kabul to talk peace,” Filkins wrote in the Times. Neither the Americans, nor head of Afghanistan’s peace council, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani have divulged names of the so-called Taliban willing to talk. This has not deterred US newspapers from indulging in gossip. Some “Taliban representatives” were even flown in NATO planes to Kabul, we are told. Perhaps, some goat herders were given a free ride on a plane, one they had only seen in the sky, much less getting inside one. That would be a treat for any poor Afghan. What did they serve on the flight?
While both the US and Afghan representatives were coy about the identity of the Taliban, on October 20 the New York Times reported that Mulla Omar was kept out of the loop because he was “too close” to the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI. Stories about Mulla Omar’s exclusion from talks surfaced after an official statement posted by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan reiterated the now familiar demand that there would be no negotiations until all foreign troops and their hired mercenaries leave Afghanistan. The Taliban also point out that while the Americans express their willing to talk, not one senior Taliban leader has been removed from the UN “terror list” that was created at the behest of the US. The contradiction in talking to terrorists is self-evident.
Lest people get carried away that peace was at hand, American officials conceded that Taliban leaders and their foot soldiers have given no indication they are willing to cut a deal any time soon. Putting a brave face on a bad situation from which there appears no easy way out, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at a NATO meeting in Brussels on October 14: “We just — you know, we need to be open to opportunities that arise.” This was a clear admission that all this talk about talks was just that. NATO officials are due to meet in Lisbon on November 19 to review the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. US President Barack Obama’s Afghan surge has led to the highest level of casualties suffered by US and NATO forces since the war began nine years ago.
He had announced last December to begin a draw down of troops in July 2011. His generals and other arm-chair hawks in Washington have tried to backtrack from this pledge, and it may be difficult for Obama to fulfill it, but the grim reality of defeat looming ahead may leave him little choice. Obama is facing his own “Saigon moment” and unless he moves quickly, Afghanistan may turn out to be the biggest disaster ever to strike the US military, and indeed America. As General Hamid Gul, former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence said in a recent interview: “It is the wrong war, with the wrong people at the wrong time.” He also said the Afghans have three things going for them: time, manpower and space. This is what determines the outcome of a struggle. “The Americans,” he asserted confidently, “have lost the war.”
This assessment seemed to be shared by some White House officials as well who presented a grim picture of the security situation in Afghanistan. David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post (October 8): “The report doesn’t paint an optimistic picture of the security situation,” quoting a White House official. “He described the 27-page document as ‘very candid and very frank.’ Government officials always say that about reports, but in this case, it’s actually true.”
In any discussion on Afghanistan, American officials immediately bring up the question of Pakistan. They have linked the two by naming the crisis, “Af-Pak”. They accuse the Pakistani military of not doing enough to fight the Taliban by attacking their sanctuaries in North Waziristan. This, according to the Americans, is the main reason for the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. The American plan appears to be to escape from Afghanistan by bombing their way through Pakistan. In addition to an alarming increase in drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal area, on September 30, American helicopters and planes also bombed a Pakistani border post near Parachinar killing three soldiers. This led to a 10-day standoff between the two countries. The border crossing at Torkham was closed and more than 150 trucks carrying supplies to the Americans were torched in Pakistan (80% of all US-NATO supplies go through Pakistan). These have continued in Baluchistan where supply trucks were torched on October 18 and 19 south of Quetta. Such attacks are likely to continue.
America’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric has grown louder; the country is painted as being ungovernable. This is then conflated into a threat to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The anti-Pakistan propaganda runs like this: the government is weak (true) and the military is unreliable because there are pro-Taliban elements in it (not true), and it is not doing America’s bidding (partly true because Pakistan has its own interests). Thus, US officials insist they cannot allow Pakistan’s nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of “terrorists”. How this would happen is not explained but some 3000 Blackwater mercenaries are prowling Pakistani cities killing people and planting bombs. The government of Asif Ali Zardari is complicit in such crimes. He was installed by direct US-British intervention and maintained in power by them. Zardari is the most hated man in Pakistan, even more than the villainous Americans but the US needs him because he cannot say no to them.
As far as Pakistan’s nuclear wea-pons are concerned, they are in safe hands. Whatever one’s view of the Pakistan army, its professionalism in such matters cannot be faulted. It was the “civilized” Americans that dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and the same “civilized” Americans that have used depleted uranium shells against Iraqi civilians. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died as a result of cancer caused by uranium dust. Iraq’s soil and water have been poisoned for thousands of years. The Pakistanis and their alleged Taliban friends could hardly do worse.
These are exciting times in Afghanistan. Another superpower is being taught a lesson about the limits of firepower and technology by the primitive but intrepid Afghans.