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Talk To the Taliban – Obama’s Divide and Rule Strategy

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time to talk to the taliban. (eye patches are optional)
Talk To Taliban. Eye patch optional.

Talking to moderate elements of the Taliban in order to undermine its unity is a great second prong of attack – to be combined with a more money-driven attack on Taliban control of Afghan opium. Obama was wise to caution that the complexities of Afghan tribal culture made the mapping of such talks much harder than even in Iraq. There are a number of interesting points embedded in the concept and Obama’s response.

Firstly, the Taliban rose to prominence precisely because they were able to bridge tribal divisions. Clearly they are suscepible to a divide and rule strategy, but we have to get a far better of idea of how to create it. Asking Americans on the ground to accurately understand and act on the landscape of highly complex tribal rivalries might be asking a little too much. And then there’s the question of the time it will take to build this system, and whether picking off local Taliban leaders piecemeal approach is the best way (after all, from then on they will have to be protected).  The best means may be to short-circuit that with standard procedure bribery. After all, the Sons of Iraq turned on the more extreme (Al Qaeda) elements of the Sunni insurgency because they were paid to do so.

Secondly, assuming we’re successful, and we are able to fragment the Taliban, we face the same quandary we’re looking at in Iraq. What will happen when we leave? Afghan tribal relationships are extremely fluid. Alliances change all the time, so without the focus that US ability to influence events with money and troops will bring, things might simply revert to where they are now once we’re gone.

Third, if the Taliban is stymied, reconstruction has to begin.  The only solution to the quandary above may be to make a major (and private) multi-year commitment to continue our intervention in Afghanistan, because a drastic reduction of Taliban power can only be sustained if there’s such a noticeable improvement in Afghan economic and social fortunes that going back to Taliban rule would be seen as bad news to most Aghans. Afghanistan has been a basket case for centuries, so bringing discernible improvement to its people – outside Kabul is likely to take many years.

Fourthly, none of the above means anything without tackling the opium problem in a non-violent way. Only by paying opium farmers to verifiably switch to other crops and protect them from Taliban retaliation (our only serious military role apart from stopping remain opium smuggling) can we reduce Taliban payroll – which is, for the most part, what earns the loyalty of their dirt-poor recruits.

Finally, Pakistan’s recent deal with the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley is a problem for our dealings with the Afghan Taliban. We need to recalibrate our policy in Pakistan to develop stronger ties with the Pakistani Army, to build support for the civilian government, and to isolate the ISI in an effort to get that and other of Islamabad’s militant friendly decsions reversed.

We can make progress in Afghanistan. The issue is whether it can be sustained.

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Written by coolrebel

March 7, 2009 at 7:29 am

One Response

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  1. The same divide and rule strategy as the British followed in India during the British Raj. It means more bloodshed and more civilian fighting against each other. Why dont u people stop interfering in our internal matters and let us live in peace. All the terrorism that started was after interference of America when Russia invaded Afghanistan. Had america not created Taliban with support of Pakistan, we wouldnt be facing this problem today.

    Zeeshan

    March 7, 2009 at 10:27 pm


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