New US Afghan strategy: "buy off" the Taliban

The leaders of one of the largest Pashtun tribes in the Taliban stronghold of eastern Afghanistan announced Jan. 27 that they had agreed to support the US-backed government, battle insurgents, and burn down the home of anyone who harbored insurgents. Elders from the Shinwari tribe, which represents about 400,000 people, also pledged to send at least one military-age male in each family to the Afghan army or the police in the event of a Taliban attack. In exchange for their support, US commanders agreed to channel $1 million in development projects directly to the tribal leaders and bypass the local Afghan government, widely viewed as corrupt. (NYT, Jan. 27)

As an international summit on Afghanistan policy opens in London this week, sources in the British government told reporters that they hoped to "reintegrate" half the estimated 25,000 Taliban fighters with promises of new jobs in the Afghan government. (The Age, Australia, Jan. 29)

Days earlier, Stanley McChrystal, the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, raised the prospect of a negotiated peace with the Taliban. In a Financial Times interview, Gen. McChrystal said he is ready to make "very demonstrably positive" progress this year as a result of the planned troop surge. By securing an arc of territory stretching from the Taliban's southern heartlands to Kabul, McChrystal said he seeks to weaken the insurgency to the point where its leaders will accept a settlement.

"As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there's been enough fighting," he said. "What I think we do is try to shape conditions which allow people to come to a truly equitable solution to how the Afghan people are governed." Asked if he would be content to see Taliban leaders in a future government in Kabul, he said: "I think any Afghans can play a role if they focus on the future, and not the past."

A similar possibility was floated in Islamabad last week by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who described the Taliban as part of Afghanistan's "political fabric". (FT, Jan. 25)

These developments come on the heels of growing charges of US collaboration with the Taliban. And Obama himself made similar noises last year.

So much for all the talk about how the war is to liberate Afghanistan's women and set up a secular democracy. As long as the Taliban aren't fighting the US, the US evidently has no problem with them—as was seen in the pre-9-11 era, when the CIA and oil companies like Unocal connived with the Taliban, while the rival Russians backed the Northern Alliance. Now Washington is again apparently ready to welcome the oxymoron of "Taliban moderates" into a US-backed regime. Or else to embrace reactionary tribal patriarchs, who share the Taliban ideology, to fight the Taliban—even if they engage in extra-judicial reprisals like burning down the homes of suspected Taliban collaborators. This is an echo of the Awakening Council strategy in Iraq, which brought a measure of "peace" by turning al-Qaeda-controlled totalitarian sharia enclaves into US-backed totalitarian sharia enclaves. (Ah, progress!) It is also an echo of last year's peace-for-sharia deal that failed to even bring peace to Pakistan.

Now all the right-wing pro-war types are aghast at what increasingly smells like a betrayal of the supposed US mission in Afghanistan. All American Blogger fumes: "After spending the blood, treasure and time to rid Afghanistan of the scourge of the Taliban, Gen. Stanley McCrystal [sic] has joined with President Barack Obama in saying there may be room for the Taliban in the government."

Where are the voices on the anti-war left that will call out these moves as exposing the bogus war propaganda of the US and NATO? Nowhere. Because most of the anti-war movement takes the spineless and transparent position (which it ironically shares with the White House and Pentagon!) that the Taliban aren't that bad after all.

See our last posts on Afghanistan and the politics of the anti-war movement

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