If you can't beat the Taliban, buy them out. At last week's conference in London, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's Western backers endorsed his latest attempt to lure away low level Taliban fighters with money and jobs, committing themselves to a $500 million fund to finance the re-integration plan. The logic is that a majority of the Taliban , 70 percent actually according to some estimates, are the so-called "$10 fighters" who do not share the leaders' intense ideological motivation. They are driven to the Islamists because they are the only source of livelihood in a war-ravaged nation. So if you offered them an alternative, these rent-a-day foot soldiers can easily be broken.
Quite part from the fact that several such attempts have failed in the past, the whole idea that members of the Taliban are up for sale just when the insurgency is at its deadliest is not only unrealistic but also smacks of arrogance, Newsweek magazine notes in an well-argued article. It quotes Sami Yousoufsai a local journalist "who understands the Taliban as few others do" as laughing at the idea that the Taliban could be bought over.
"If the leadership, commanders, and sub commanders wanted comfortable lives, they would have made their deals long ago. Instead they stayed committed to their cause even when they were on the run, with barely a hope of survival," the article says quoting the journalist. Now the Taliban are back in action across much of the south, east, and west, the provinces surrounding Kabul, and chunks of the north."They used to hope they might reach this point in 15 or 20 years. They've done it in eight. Many of them see this as proof that God is indeed on their side." Indeed one Taliban member reacted angrily to the idea of a buy-out. "You can't buy my ideology, my religion. It's an insult,"he said.
At another level, come to think of it, if theirs is a force largely made of rented foot soldiers, the Taliban have done exceptionally well taking control of large parts of the country massed against the world's biggest military powers. Imagine what it would be like if this wasn't just a $10 a day army as Karzai and his allies paint it to be and instead a proper fighting force.
So why would they defect ? And just how realistic is this ? The relatively few Taliban who did accept Karzai's previous offers to return to society live virtually in self-exile in Kabul, afraid to go to their homes in the countryside where the Taliban won't spare them. Some of those it had spoken to, Newsweek notes, wanted to go back to the Taliban, but they know they won't be forgiven. So its a real problem, where do the Taliban go, even after Karzai offers them gobs of money. " They wouldn't want to live in expensive Kabul, where people on the streets would make fun of their country ways, huge black turbans, and kohl eyeliner. They hate everything that Kabul represents: a sinful place of coed schools, dancing, drinking, music, movies, prostitution, and the accumulation of wealth."