There are increasing signs that the USraelian Empire is trying to negotiate some kind of deal with the Taliban including their chief, Mullah Omar. Some are rejoicing at this development seeing it as a way to finally get the US out of Afghanistan. I would agree with such optimistic hopes if the issue was only getting the US out of Afghanistan, but there is far more at stake here than that.
First, the term “Taliban” is somewhat vague and it is often used interchangeably with the term “Pashtun”. Furthermore, “Taliban” is almost always assumed to be an movement specific to Afghanistan. The problem with that is that this use of these terms is that it obfuscates two very important realities: not all Pashtuns are Taliban and the Taliban themselves are not a purely Afghan force. Simply put: the Taliban movement is a creation and an outgrowth of Pakistani Wahabism which spread to Afghanistan by means of the Pashtun ethnic group which live on both sides of the Pakistani-Afghan border.
The Pashtuns are a *minority* in Afghanistan, about 40%, but they are still the single largest ethnic group (the second largest group, the Tadjiks, are only about 30% and the next largest groups are the Uzbeks and the Hazaras, both number something close to 10%). As I said, not all Pashtuns are Talibans, but even assuming that 100% of Pashtuns would support the Taliban, this still means that the Taliban do not represent the majority of the people of Afghanistan.
So why is the Empire trying to negotiate with the Taliban?
Simple: because their real power base is in Pakistan.
This is worth repeating again: the real power base of the Taliban is in Pakistan.
There are still a lot of myths about Reagan’s “heroic freedom fighters” out there. Like the myth which says that the Mudjahideens booted the Soviets out of Afghanistan. That’s nonsense. Consider this: after the Soviet withdrawal the in February 1989 it took the heroic freedom fighters three years (until April 1992!) to take Kabul following an extremely bloody civil war. It took the defection of the Uzbek general Dostum to make it possible for the anti-Najibullah forces to take Kabul. All these are undisputed facts. So then ask yourself a simple question: how could the Mudjahideens “boot out” the Soviets if they could not even take Kabul as long as Dostum was defending it? The answer is simple: the Soviets left because of the deep political crisis in the Soviet Union and not because of Reagan’s “freedom fighters”. Besides, as any Soviet who fought in Afghanistan will tell you, the Pashtuns are rather pitiful fighters which the Russians looked down upon. In contrast, the Russians had the deepest respect for the formidable Tadjik fighters of the late Ahmad Shah Masood (I remember how a former commander of the KGB Spetsnaz unit “Kaskad” told me that Masood’s best men were “at least as good as our best guys” not only in terms of courage – which the Pashtuns also had – but in terms of actual combat skills).
Another myth about the Pashtuns is that the US military defeated the Taliban in 2001. This is not so. It was the Northern Alliance (Tadjiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and others) which defeated the Talibans on the ground while the US only provided them with (very valuable) support from the air and with FACs on the ground. Furthermore, the Taliban rapidly decided not to oppose the invasion and to withdraw to the countryside and mountains to wait for a better time. A lot of them, in fact, left for Pakistan.
Now this is crucial here: it was Pakistan which provided a safe heaven for the anti-Soviet resistance during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and it is arguably only this safe heaven which prevented the Soviets from truly crushing the Pashtun resistance (the Tadjiks in the Panshir Valley in the northeast of the country were the only ones who actually did successfully resist several Soviet attacks and did not seek cover across the border). Likewise, today’s main problem for NATO is the Waziristan province of Pakistan were the Taliban and their Pakistani allies are hiding.
To sum up: the Afghan Pashtuns are nowhere near the formidable force which the media portrays them to be and their real power resides in the fact that they have found a safe heaven in Pakistan. I could add here that the almighty Pakistani secret service, the ISI, has, from day one, been the real Godfather of the anti-Soviet resistance and then of the Taliban movement, with US assistance, of course.
There is one inescapable conclusion from all this: negotiating with the “Taliban” really means negotiating with the Wahabis in Pakistan. This is not, repeat *not*, negotiating with the “Afghan people”. I would even argue that negotiating with the Taliban is, in fact, negotiating with the worst enemies of the Afghan people.
I am sure that everybody remembers the kind of regime the Taliban had put into place after they took Kabul: from the banning of music and kites, to the constant executions of people for the smallest of crimes, to the ever present terror squads in the streets to the infamous destruction of the Buddhas in Bamyan – the Taliban were every bit as ugly, crazy and evil as the US propaganda painted them to be (yes, sometimes even the US propaganda can say the truth). And just as the US propaganda accused them to be, the Taliban were the closest and most dedicated allies of Osama Bin-Laden, al-Qaeda and the rest of the Wahabi crackpots worldwide.
But maybe it would be possible to negotiate some kind of deal by which those crazed Wahabis would keep to themselves and only turn Afghanistan into some hellish medieval nightmare but leave the rest of the world alone?
The Russians tried just that in Chechnya with the so-called Khasavyurt Agreement signed in 1996 only to have the Chechens actually invade Daghestan in 1999 forcing the Russians to go right back into Chechnya and to “finish the job” (although the bulk of the Chechen forces were rapidly defeated a low-scale insurrection is still active in Chechnya even today). You can safely count on the Taliban sooner or later doing something similar with Tajikistan, Iran, Indian controlled Kashmir or even China. But even if by some kind of newly found self-restraint the Taliban agreed to stay within the confines of “their” territory (Afghanistan and Pakistan) the nightmare would not stop. First, because all the non-Taliban in the region would fight for their survival and, second, because the risk of a nuclear armed Pakistan becoming “Talibanized” are all too real.
Still, one can recognize these risk and still favor an American withdrawal from Afghanistan since, after all, it is not any business of the USA to be the world’s policeman and protect the continent from the Taliban. However, there is a logical fallacy here: withdrawing the US forces from Afghanistan does not entail negotiating with the Taliban. I, for one, would even argue that the best way to get the US out of Afghanistan would be to negotiate with all the regional forces opposed to the Taliban: Iran, Russia, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and, in a second phase, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and China. That is the beauty of it: *all* the region’s countries are firmly opposed to what the Taliban represent and *nobody* wants these crazies back in power.
Finally, there is another consideration which should prompt everybody to agree to a regional solution to this issue: the problem of “Afghanistan” is really the problem of *Pakistan*. And Pakistan is one hell of a problem indeed! After all, this is the only nuclear power in the world which is essentially in a constant state of civil war and nobody knows when or how this civil war will end. Even worse, there are at least two major powers which blindly support Pakistan for their own narrow interests: China tries to use Pakistan against India and the USA which tries to use Pakistan against Russia and Iran. These two countries are in many ways the prime culprits for the ‘nuclear powder keg” which Pakistan has turned into. Is there a way to fix the mess these two have created?
I don’t see any other solution than defeating the Wahabis in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. I don’t believe that there is any possibility to negotiate anything with these guys, and I don’t believe that they could somehow be isolated or otherwise contained. If history does teach us anything it is that there is no point in negotiating with crazed fanatics hell-bend on taking on the rest of the planet. Furthermore, I cannot conceive of anything more immoral than pretending to negotiate with “the Afghan people” while in reality handing over Afghanistan to a *minority* of crazed thugs.
Alas, the Empire in its disarray seems to be determined to do exactly that. True to its trademark policy of short-term “solutions” an attempt to negotiate some kind of deal with the Taliban is what we should expect next. In the minds of the Imperial High Command this would allow the Empire to partially relive (or extricate) its bogged down forces from Afghanistan while taking on step further along its new found anti-Shia grand strategy (the so-called “Redirection“). The only result from this kind of policy will be to force Russia and Iran to dramatically increase their support for the Tadjiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras while tensions between India and Pakistan will flare up. In short: these planned “negotiations” will achieve only one thing: to make a bad situation infinitely worse.
UPDATE: I just came across this very interesting story: it appears that the Pentagon is opposed to the idea of dealing with Mullah Omar. Petraeus had declared that “The key there is making sure that all of that is done in complete coordination, with complete support of the Afghan government and with President Karzai“. Well, since Karzai is a long time US puppet and CIA agent we can take him out of this sentence and rephrase it like this: “The key there is making sure that all of that is done in complete coordination, with complete support of the Afghan government”; in other words – the folks from the Northern Alliance which hold all the important ministries in the “Afghan government” went apeshit at the idea of dealing with Omar and made the US back down from this crazy idea.
Good for them.