Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Rangeen Dadfar Spanta has said that the Taliban would have to lay down arms, accept the constitution in its current form and run for elections if they wanted a share of power. If the Taliban thought they could get cabinet berths for the asking in return for a peace deal, they have another thing coming, he told the McClatchy newspapers in an interview.
If that’s the Afghan government’s stand, a deal with the insurgents seems to be a non-starter. Imagine the Taliban agreeing to take part in a Western-style election campaign under a constitution they have long denounced as forced on the country following their ouster in 2001. The idea of the Taliban – more known for their brutal methods – knocking on doors seeking votes seems a bit far fetched at the moment. Last week’s reports of the Taliban stoning a young couple to death in rather barbaric fashion in northern Afghanistan on charges of adultery have only reinforced the image of a group unyielding in its interpretation of sharia law.
Not that the Taliban themselves have shown any willingness for talks. They have made clear there is no question of any dialogue until all foreign forces leave their homeland, and the country is returned to them as it was pre-2001. Indeed all the talk about talks and the conditions that go with it have come from the Afghan government and some of its backers in Europe, and not the Taliban. So you have a rather odd situation - the Afghan government is repeatedly urging the Taliban to come for talks but in the same breath setting conditions that only a fatally weakened interlocutor would accept.
And the Taliban look far from a weakened enemy. Not only have they extended their reach into the north and west from their southern and eastern strongholds, they are striking at Kabul again, breaching the Ring of Steel or the security cordon that was thrown around the capital during the elections last year. Talks seem the farthest thing on their minds, although arguably you could be adopting tough postures in public while keeping the door open in private for some kind of engagement.
The U.S. military has stopped the Taliban momentum in southern Afghanistan, and is probably starting to reverse it following the surge, according to a study we wrote about this week here. The view from the ground, though, is much less rosy.
Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy has published a paper under its Afghan Voices series looking at how ordinary Afghans view the current round of military operations centred around Kandahar.
Anne Stenersen of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment has published by far one of the most detailed studies of the Taliban, their structure, leadership and just how they view the world. Its interesting because even after all these years they remain a bit of an enigma beginning with the reclusive founder and supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
As Stenersen notes, a lot of the attention within NATO has been on defeating the insurgency or how best to manage it. Less attention has been given to trying to understand who the insurgents are, and what they are fighting for. Even the way we describe them is not very defined. The insurgents are often lumped together as “al Qaeda and the Talban” , even though in many fundamental ways they could be vastly dissimilar, or described as OMF (Other military Forces) as NATO tends to do in militaryspeak, perhaps in the belief that denying them a proper name diminishes them.
It could be early days yet, and the sampling may be small, but there are signs of a drop in Taliban attacks following the Pakistani crackdown on the Quetta Shura, an intelligence website says. If the assessment put out by NightWatch intelligence turns out to be true over the next few weeks, it will reinforce U.S. military officials’ long-standing position you cannot win the war in Afghanistan unless you take out the Taliban leadership in Pakistan