Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

The Afghan conference: a meeting of victors or the vanquished ?

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AFGHANISTAN/If you listened to some of the rhetoric in the lead-up to Thursday’s conference on Afghanistan in London and followed the coverage accompanying it, you would think it is a meeting of the victors of war.

Here we are, at a meeting attended by representatives from more than 50 countries, offering the Taliban a chance for peace before the “surge” of 30,000 additional U.S. troops hits them. They better grasp it before the tide turns decisively against them, seems to be the message.  Host British Prime Minister Gordon, according to this report, vowed to “split the Taliban” while offering them a full part in the rebuilt Afghanistan if they united behind the government in Kabul.

Britain along with Japan will launch a fund at the conference, expected to total up to $500 million over the next five years, as part of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s plan to lure away mid-to low level Taliban fighters from the insurgency.

The only problem with all this is the “vanquished”  Taliban have not yet taken the bait. Indeed they don’t look like the vanquished, especially after  making 2009 the worst year  for foreign forces since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. As this piece here notes, many of the nations heading to Thursday’s conference attended a similar one, in Bonn, soon after the defeat of the Taliban more than eight years ago. They were victors then; today they are “terribly fatigued and almost bled white.”.  It is not the Taliban but the most powerful nations on earth who are seeking out the insurgents to talk peace.

Can Obama learn from Soviets how to withdraw from Afghanistan?

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President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States will begin pulling its troops out Afghanistan in 2011 provides a good opportunity to look back and study history. This will, after all, be the second time Afghans have bid farewell to a superpower, and Nikolai Gvosdev in Foreign Affairs offers an interesting take on what happened the last time, when the Soviets pulled out in 1989.   A portrait of former Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah is pasted up inside a window in Kabul on Dec. 11, 2009. Najibullah, who clung to power for three years after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and was hung from a traffic lamp by the Taliban is now a popular figure among many Afghans who remember his rule as a gentler time than life under the warring factions that toppled him. Photo by Peter Graff, Reuters.  

The man the Soviets left in charge was Mohammad Najibullah, who clung to power for three more years, then sheltered for another four years in the U.N. compound in Kabul, before finally ending up strung up by the Taliban from a Kabul traffic lamp in 1996. Najibullah’s grisly end means his career hardly seems like one that President Hamid Karzai would want to emulate. Yet Gvosdev’s account is a reminder that Najibullah actually held on to power far longer than most in the West expected. His government in fact actually outlasted the Soviet Union itself, which collapsed in 1991.

In Gvosdev’s account, the key to Najibullah’s success lay in part in lavishing funds on tribal and provincial chiefs. That tactic became impossible after the Soviet Union disintegrated and the money dried up. Even so, Najibullah might have still hung on had Pakistan not been given free rein by the West to back the Mujahideen that unseated him.

from Tales from the Trail:

Victory for Karzai, minefield for Obama?

Former President George W. Bush used to talk about the "soft bigotry of low expectations." He was talking about education in the United States.

But these days, that phrase could easily refer to the U.S. government's attitudes towards Afghanistan. Just look at the following phrases from American officials this year.

from Tales from the Trail:

Time to get tough on Afghan fraud, start with the message

What message does it send when the U.N. representative to Afghanistan says it will be impossible to eliminate fraud in the run-off election? AFGHANISTAN-ELECTION/

That's what Kai Eide admitted last week, adding, "what we will try to do, is to reduce the level of fraud."

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