If only Karl Eikenberry, America’s new ambassador to Afghanistan, actually sparked a debate in his recent article to the Washington Post. The war has been drowned out by the economy and heath care, allowing President Obama to sidestep the American people in the debate over Afghanistan. Though it feels unusual that Americans must find one abroad, the international community is the only forum to turn to.
Unfortunately Europe doesn’t have the answer either.
Last week David Miliband, Britain’s Foreign Minister, urged NATO members to negotiate with “ordinary rank and file Taliban” and offer them the opportunity for political integration. Britain’s official strategy immediately attracted outside support. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner quickly approved the plan with similar statements of “two types of Taliban.”
Opening a dialogue with the Taliban is initially sound. Those foot soldiers that can be turned are vital to victory, but reconciliation among “moderate Taliban” is separate from negotiating with the political leadership. Kai Eide, a Norwegian diplomat and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, warned that distinguishing between good and bad Taliban is dangerously flawed.
“If you do want a comprehensive peace process, it is not enough to talk to the commanders on the ground," Eide said. "It is a political process, and I think you also have to approach the more political structures of the insurgency movement. We won’t get where we want by negotiating with local commanders on the ground. That’s an inadequate peace process and that won’t work.”
Europe has joined President Karzai, President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Joint Chief Chairman Michael Mullen, General McChrystal, and many Pakistani officials in expressing the need to negotiate with the Taliban. All have spoken of a political solution as the final solution, but can this be done without facing Mullah Omar, the embodiment of the “hard core insurgency”?
Afghanistan’s insurgent leadership structure deeply differs from Iraq’s, where dozens of groups and as many leaders vied for supremacy. Afghanistan has one man - Mullah Omar, “the commander of the faithful.” He’s indigenous and impossible to go around. If anyone in America or the international community believes a dialogue is the only exit out of Afghanistan, they must speak to Mullah Omar.
Yet President Obama states in his White Paper on Afghanistan, “Mullah Omar and the Taliban’s hard core that have aligned themselves with al Qaeda are not reconcilable and we cannot make a deal that includes them.” How can a political solution be made without the most important part of the opposition?
It’s impossible, and the situation logically decays from this point.
In truth no one knows whether Mullah Omar’s Taliban would reconcile with America. He didn’t go chasing after Russia and likely wouldn’t follow America home if it retreated. The only reason the West refuses to negotiate with Omar is because of al Qaeda. Negotiations are automatically prejudiced, but they’re simple. Omar has only one precondition - that all foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
Naturally America and the international community have rejected this demand and intend to fight as long as necessary to achieve military victory. In between Fogh Rasmussen’s openness to dialogue was the remark that NATO would stay in Afghanistan however long the war takes. By America and the UK’s own admission, this means ten years at the minimum
While Milibrand was in Denmark for his NATO meetings, Britain’s Defense Minister Bill Rammell warned that the war could drag on for “decades,” citing a report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. His remarks echoed an interview of David Kilcullen, President Obama’s counterinsurgency adviser, who thinks the war will continue for another decade “at least.” This is hardly a best case scenario, but the worst is sure to be denied out of fear.
The West may never leave Afghanistan if it refuses to negotiate with Mullah Omar. Political reconciliation is the only way to end the war, but America refuses to negotiate with the opposition. Omar won’t negotiate anyway until all foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan. Foreign troops won’t withdraw, therefore no political reconciliation can occur. Endless fighting will be the result.
General Mullen recently said the time wasn’t right for negotiations. No, the time will only be right when the Taliban is ready to surrender, but that day will never come. Afghanistan is trapped in a perfect circle.