Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
One of the issues that seems to arouse the strongest emotions in the Afghan debate is the question of when the United States and its allies should engage in talks with the Taliban. Some argued that the moment was ripe a few months ago, when both sides were finely balanced against each other and therefore both more likely to make the kind of concessions that would make negotiations possible. It was an argument that surfaced forcefully at the London conference on Afghanistan in January. Others insisted that U.S.-led forces had to secure more gains on the battlefield first.
If you go by this survey carried out in December by Human Terrain Systems (pdf) (published this month by Danger Room) the people of Kandahar province were convinced at the end of last year of the need for negotiations: (as usual health warnings apply to any survey conducted in a conflict zone):
“Reconciliation is a popular concept in Kandahar province. There is almost universal agreement that negotiation with the Taliban is preferable to continued fighting. Specific approaches such as calling a Loya Jirga and a jobs training program for former fighters are both widely supported. The desire for reconciliation is likely driven by the perception that the Taliban are part of Afghan society; a significant majority of respondents view the Taliban as ‘our Afghan brothers’. This opinion is unsurprising considering the ethnic makeup of the Taliban - highly Pashtun – and the movement’s history in Kandahar Province,” it says.
Since December/January both sides have faced setbacks. The arrest in Pakistan of Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, for whatever reason, has at the very least sent a message to the Afghan Taliban in the so-called Quetta Shura that they can no longer count on Pakistan as a safe haven. At the same time, the U.S.-led military campaign seems to be running into problems, if the latest spate of negative press reporting about the forthcoming offensive in Kandahar is to be believed (see Martine van Bijlert at the Afghan Analysts Network on her recent visit to Kandahar; The Guardian for a useful round-up of links; or follow these blogs by Kandahar residents Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn)