By Bassam Javed
General Patraeus, the supreme US Commander in Afghanistan and famed savoir of United States who helped orchestrated US withdrawal from Iraq after creating dents in the opposition’s unity fighting the Americans. Surprisingly, there has been no or very little acclamation of victory declared therein Iraq by Obama. As per the latest Wikileaks disclosure, 109,000 Iraqis were brutally killed by the American forces between 2003 to-date that included deaths of 68,670 poor Iraqi civilians also. In this backdrop General Patraeus chivalrously managed to divide the opposition through some massive payments made to the ones who opted to distance themselves from the main figures. He sure was successful there.
Based on that experience, President Obama has relied on him once again to enable him bring his troops home from the telling Afghan theatre of war. Patraeus accepted the job, though a notch lesser from the coveted appointment of Commander US Central Command for he wanted to resurrect his otherwise much doubted achievement in Iraq. The debate over his achievements in Iraq has been a thought provoking subject in the military circles and American media that still continues to crop up from time to time. Whether he will be successful in repeating the Iraqi feat here also in Afghan theatre of war remains a million dollar question. However, his efforts to link his dividing the opposition qualities with that of on going ‘Operation Desert Strike’ appears to be faltering in Afghan scenario. He keeps on feeding the media on Afghan Taliban leaning towards the Kabul government continue to be disputed by Obama’s point man on Afghanistan Richard Holbrook.
Even if Petraeus is successfully working to create fissures in Taliban ranks by paying huge sums of money to them, Holbrook has to contest the claims for if he does do it, there would be any justification left for continuity of his job. For him the game in Afghanistan must go on. For General Patraeus, he must understand that this theater of war is very different from the Iraqi one and that the Taliban are too clever to play on his tunes. Notwithstanding the need to engage Taliban on Afghan peace, it must be done not only to enable US exit gracefully but also to ensure that the kind of stability brought in as a consequence must prevail post their withdrawal. For peace in Afghanistan, the process of engaging the Taliban in talks is the only way. The talks, as part of any strategy, must be held face to face with Taliban at all levels. It must be understood without any doubt that without talking with Taliban core leadership, stability in Afghanistan would always remain a distant dream.
However, making something out of NATO’s psychological onslaught in propagating divisions in Taliban ranks four things come to fore for considerations. One, that NATO is trying to demoralize Taliban in their fight against the occupational forces in Afghanistan as’ Operation Dragon Strike’ continues in Kandahar; two, NATO might have managed to lure in some Taliban through huge sums of money to let them successfully comb Kandahar; three, acceptance of reconciliation process clearly indicates that the war is going badly and four, it may reflect the view of US military that the additional surge of 30000 troops ordered by the US President has damaged the insurgency.
The news, however that is filtering out from the NATO headquarters in Kabul also indicate enticing of some Taliban leaders including some factions from much scandalized Haqqani group. The core Taliban has denied to have entered in any sort of talks. The recent reports of a meeting between Afghan president Karzai with Maulvi Abdul kabir, the governor of eastern Nangarhar province during the Taliban regime, his deputy during the same regime Sadre Azam and Anwar –ul- Haque Mujahed, the imprisoned terrorist in Pakistan, if true, is another exercise to divide and rule. The meeting that reportedly took place can be best described as mid-level and is considered to influence other Taliban to enter into talks with Kabul government.
The discussions that took place have been reportedly described as preliminary, partly because Afghan and Americans are trying to determine how much influence Taliban leaders who purportedly participated in Talks enjoy in their own tribes or groups. Americans, post the referred talks, are weary of investing too much hope in these discussions. They appear to tap the potential of Taliban leaders whom they entice in their own fold. Interestingly, Maulvi Kabir and Haqqani belong to the same tribe ‘Zadran’. The core Taliban spoke person has denied any talks with either the 70-member Afghan High Peace Council or the NATO.
In the past, talks or more accurately, talks about talks, – have foundered over pre-conditions that each side has set for itself: for the Taliban, that the Americans must first withdraw: for the Afghan government, that the Taliban must first disarm. On his part, the Afghan president Karzai is trying to talk to all of the Taliban factions including that of Mullah Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani. However, the US Commander General Patraeus is on dictating terms with Karzai as he forces him to talk to Taliban only of his own choosing. Unless the Afghan President and 70-member Afghan High Peace Council are given a free hand to engage Taliban as they think the best, the peace efforts will fail as Afghans understand each others’ psyche better than the foreign Commanders operating on their lands.