Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

The contours of an Afghan settlement



For all the talk of  seeking a political settlement of the Afghan war  with the involvement of the Taliban, it has not been clear even broadly what a final deal will look like.   Will the Taliban, who control or exercise influence over large parts of the country, take charge in Kabul ? Will the United States simply and fully withdraw all its forces from the country?  What happens to President Hamid Karzai who has been actively seeking reconciliation with the hardline Islamists ? What about the regional powers, not just Pakistan which obviously will play a central role because of its ties to the Taliban, but also Iran and India, both with rising stakes there along with the Russians and the Chinese to a lesser extent  ?

Selig Harrison, director of the Asia programme at the Center for International Policy, explores some of these questions in a must-read piece in Foreign Policy headlined “How to leave Afghanistan without Losing.”

As the title suggests, America’s exit strategy should be based on the premise that  while the Talban will have to be accommodated in any settlement, they must be contained.  Disengagement  from Afghanistan does not mean surrender to the Taliban, Harrison argues, even though the austere Islamist group has virtually fought a coalition led by the world’s most powerful military to a stalemate.  And the key to the containment strategy rests with Afghanistan’s neighbours.

Six of the seven regional powers with a stake in Afghanistan share the U.S. goal of preventing the return of a Taliban dictatorship in Kabul.  These  include such unlikely countries as Iran, Russia, China, and India besides the central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan all worried that the extreme version of Islam espoused by the Taliban can only have negative consequences for their own countries, the  author argues.