x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Obama willing to reach out to the Taliban

On Sept 11 2001 after the al Qa'eda attacks on America, President Bush launched the US "war on terrorism" by declaring: "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them." Almost eight years later President Obama acknowledges that just such a distinction needs to be made. After conceding that the US is not winning the war in Afghanistan, Mr Obama suggested that there may be a need to reach out to members of the Taliban.

On Sept 11 2001 after the al Qa'eda attacks on America, President Bush launched the US "war on terrorism" by declaring: "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them." Based on that principle the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. Almost eight years later President Obama has acknowledged that when it comes to confronting the Taliban distinctions do indeed need to be made. After conceding that the US is not winning the war in Afghanistan, Mr Obama suggested that there may be a need to reach out to receptive members of the Taliban. As the Obama administration develops a new regional approach to the war in Afghanistan, the New York Times said: "a central point is hovering above all the strategic reviewing of 'Afpak' (Afghanistan-Pakistan) that is going on in Washington, Islamabad, Kabul, London, Paris and Brussels. Any conflict that has ever been solved involved the various sides coming to agreement, and Afghanistan, the theory goes, is no different. " 'I think it is clear that you have to have a political solution to Afghanistan, and I wouldn't rule anything off the table, including conversations with some aspects of the Taliban,' said Reuben Brigety, an Afghanistan expert at the Center for American Progress. "It is a point that European - particularly British - officials have pressed on the Americans for some time. With the Bush administration, one European diplomat said, 'there was a complete ideological block to the notion of coming to any kind of deals with anything that could be called the Taliban. But now,' the diplomat added, speaking on condition of anonymity, 'we're in a different ballpark.' "Indeed, last Friday, in an interview with The New York Times, Mr Obama opened the door to approaching elements of the Taliban, if his administration's review recommends it. He cited an argument he attributed to Gen David H Petraeus that 'part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us.' Mr Obama added that 'there may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region, but the situation in Afghanistan is, if anything, more complex.' " In response to Mr Obama's comments, The Guardian reported: "Ashraf Ghani, a former Afghanistan finance minister, who is to stand as presidential candidate in the elections in August, said: 'I don't know of a single peace process that has been successfully negotiated from a position of weakness or stalemate.' "A Taliban spokesman, who said that the US president's overture was a sign of weakness, poured cold water on the notion that 'moderate' fighters could be easily turned. "Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman contacted by telephone, said: 'They say they want to speak to moderate Taliban but they will not be able to find such people because we are united around the aim of fighting for freedom and bringing an Islamic system to Afghanistan.' He added that Obama's comments were a reflection of the fact that the Americans had 'become tired and worried'." The Independent reported: "A former warlord tipped to unseat Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan's coming elections has backed President Barack Obama's plans to negotiate with the Taliban. Gul Agha Sherzai was the first Afghan leader Mr Obama met when he visited the country last year and, speaking exclusively to The Independent, he confirmed his plans to run for the presidency on a promise to empower the country's tribes and negotiate with the insurgents. " 'I will approach all the tribal elders to negotiate with the Taliban who have been brainwashed by other people,' the governor of Nangahar province said. 'I won't rely on fighting and destruction and air strikes. There are a lot of other ways to approach this other than fighting.' " AFP said: "Afghanistan's president on Sunday welcomed comments by his US counterpart Barack Obama hinting at possible talks with moderate elements of the Taliban. "Hamid Karzai said his government had long supported dialogue with those members of the extremist group not connected with the 'terrorists' waging an increasingly bloody insurgency in Afghanistan. " 'It is very good news that the American president, his excellency Obama, has backed talks with those Taliban that he termed as moderate. " 'This is the Afghan government's long stand. We wanted this and we support and stand with them to bring peace and stability to this land,' Karzai said at an event in Kabul to mark International Women's Day." In Al-Ahram Weekly, Abdus Sattar Ghazali wrote: "The US and the Afghan government both blame Pakistan's NWFP region for the surge in Afghan Taliban operations in different parts of Afghanistan, including in the capital, Kabul. In an interview aired on CNN on 13 February, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose writ does not extend much beyond his presidential palace, claimed that the Taliban had no hiding places in Afghan villages, asserting that 'the war on terrorism is not in Afghan villages and al Qa'eda will not have and does not have a hiding place in Afghanistan since the Taliban were driven out in 2001.' "However, a recent report by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), a European think-tank, refutes Karzai's assertion. According to the report, released on 8 December, the Taliban now have a presence in 72 per cent of Afghanistan, up from 54 per cent a year ago. According to the ICOS, Taliban forces have advanced from their southern heartlands, where they are now the de facto governing power in a number of towns and villages, to Afghanistan's western and north-western provinces, as well as to provinces north of Kabul. Within a year, the Taliban's presence in the country has increased by a startling 18 per cent, according to ICOS research on the ground. "The ICOS report also documents the advance of the Taliban on Kabul, where three out of the four main highways into the city are now affected by Taliban activity. Security in the capital has plummeted to minimum levels, with the Taliban and criminal elements infiltrating the city at will. In short 'the Taliban now control the political and military dynamic in Afghanistan,' according to Norine McDonald, president and lead field researcher of ICOS." In The Guardian, Wajahat Ali wrote: "Recently, a top US diplomat warned that Pakistan poses a bigger security threat to the world than Afghanistan. This ominous statement tracks a series of alarming developments: the surreal video of twelve gunmen brazenly attacking the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore's broad daylight; Pakistan's capitulation to the Taliban on implementing Sharia law in the Swat Valley; several days of riots after the Supreme Court banned popular opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother from holding office; evidence directly linking Pakistani terrorist groups to November's Mumbai tragedy; a significant increase in suicide bombings within Pakistan; and, of course, the rapid Talibanisation of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) - a Grand Central Station for multicultural extremists seeking training, support and safe haven. "Although Barack Obama's initial language, tone and action towards Pakistan reflected a unilateral belligerence reminiscent of his predecessor (he'd launched two controversial predator drone attacks as of March), the new president recently conceded: 'We've been thinking very militarily, but we haven't been as effective in thinking diplomatically - we haven't been thinking effectively around the development side of the equation.' "In fact, neither the leaders of the US nor Pakistan have ever sincerely committed their resources and money to empowering Pakistan's electorate, building infrastructure or creating sustainable social, economic and political reform programmes." In The Independent on Sunday, Omar Waraich and Raymond Whitaker wrote: "Recently MPs were told in London that Pakistani generals still considered it in the country's strategic interest to have the Taliban - which was created by Pakistan's military intelligence service - in power in Kabul rather than President Karzai's government, which is closer to India. Shaun Gregory, head of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at Bradford University, told the Foreign Affairs Committee that Pakistan's role in the Afghan Taliban's comeback 'lies somewhere between passive tolerance ... [and] open and active support'. Britain, the US and Nato found themselves 'reliant on an "ally" which does not share their interests and whom they cannot trust'. "Other experts told the committee that Pakistan showed little interest in tackling militant commanders such as Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, both old mujahedin leaders in Afghanistan who have thrown in their lot with al Qa'eda and with the foreign Islamists who have made their base in Waziristan, the largest and most lawless of the tribal areas along the Pakistani border. Instead, the Pakistani military has been battling a new generation of younger militants who want to 'Talibanise' Pakistan."

pwoodward@thenational.ae