No sooner has the ink dried on the first copy of Bob Woodward’s tell all book which, among other things, outs the conflict between Obama and his military advisors over the direction of the Afghan war, than the Washington Post reports that the Karzai government is now in “high level,” preliminary talks with the Taliban in an attempt to negotiate an end to the nine year war. This information was provided anonymously by Afghan, and Arab sources.
One can only marvel at the convenient timing, less than a month away from a crucial midterm election in which a Democratic Congress is about to lose its shirt and at a time, too, when public awareness of rising drone attacks in neighboring Pakistan has never been greater.
While Mr. Obama has said from the start that he favors diplomacy over warfare, only the most ingenuous would deny the egregious political expediency of passing the peace pipe given that July, 2011, endgame in the region, gets closer with every passing day.
Reportedly, too, the Saudis have held what are called “inconclusive meetings” to reconcile the Taliban with the Karzai government until about a year ago. You may recall that Osama bin Laden hails from Saudi Arabia. Why, over the past nine years, haven’t the Saudis arranged to have a pow-wow with him?
Another gaping question is, given all the controversy surrounding Hamid Karzai’s brother, and the pervasiveness of Taliban influence to be found throughout Afghanistan from its police force to its poppy farmers, how can these negotiations be seen as anything but a public relations ploy designed to obscure the obvious: to accept the legitimacy of the Afghan war, one would have to believe that the insurgents are fighting themselves.
But, indeed they are not. This is not a civil war. What is happening in Afghanistan is altogether different from what happened in Iraq. It is not about faction A Taliban fighting faction B, but instead access to Helmand Province’s lucrative poppy field, and ongoing control of the region including, as also recently disclosed, access to the area’s mineral wealth..
America’s short term memory deficit must astound the world. Does anybody remember the Obama administration’s stated objective being counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, or merely to divest the Afghan/Pakistan border of al Qaeda? How quickly that goal was forgotten..
General Petraeus, too, appears to endorse “high level” Taliban representatives reaching out to the Karzai government: “This is how you end these kinds of insurgencies,” he is reported to have said. Now he tells us! After the surge, troop increase of 30,000, not to mention escalation of the drone campaign, after many thousands of American, and Afghan lives, ending the war is as simple as taking a meeting.
One thing is clear. Any meeting between Taliban representatives and the Karzai government that doesn’t include, and affirm Pakistan’s sovereignty will be counterfeit as any withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in July, 2011 will then mean only redeployment to Islamabad.
JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.