Friday, May 02, 2008

Who Isn't Talking With the Taliban?

As near as I can tell, the answer is "nobody."
Hamid Karzai has been negotiating with the Taliban for quite a while. Karzai's opposition, the United National Front, aka the Northern Alliance warlords, are trying to negotiate a separate deal of their own that would see an alliance of Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and Taliban warlords (there's something to sit up and notice), the Brits have been dealing with the Taliban for a couple of years, we're now trying to get into talks with them and even the Americans, for all their swagger and John Wayne "gung ho" every now and then let slip that they're talking to the Taliban also. The Pakistanis are sure talking to them, even negotiating a ceasefire deal.

These must be heady times indeed for the Taliban leadership. So many calls, so many offers. That must be such a body blow to their morale, eh? My guess? I think they'll find the United National Front overtures most enticing. It's coming from their former enemies, the Northern Alliance tribal warlords, and it offers a means to marginalize both their Pashtun rival, Karzai, and the infidels, NATO and the US. I mean what's not to like in that deal?

Is it just coincidence that, at this very moment, both the Russians and the Chinese are firming up their interest in the region? Ya think? Look at it this way, if you want to build pipelines across Afghanistan to Iran (Russia and China) and railroads into Afghanistan (China), are you going to back Hamid Karzai, the guy who, seven years down the road, is still struggling to keep a grip on square one? Or are you going to look for a deal with the locals who have expanded their power and who effectively control most of the country, the UNF?

The Russians know all too well what happens to infidels when the Afghan tribes get together. I'm sure the Chinese know the same thing. Karzai knows, he was in on the last one. Maybe we're even figuring it out. That would certainly account for our recently lowered expectations, our seismic shift from idealism to realism. We're keeping one eye over our shoulder as we're busy with the other one looking for the door.

I think we're going to pay a big price for our years of demonizing the Taliban when we ought to have been focusing our very limited effort on al-Qaeda. Now we're trying to drive a wedge between the two of them after seven years of relentlessly driving them into each others' arms. My Lord, what must they make of our clumsy childishness?

One other event that I just can't write off to coincidence - the pending retirement of General Rick Hillier. Even ultra-right scribes like Peter Worthington were aghast that Hillier would step down after having just won a three-year extension on the war for his troops. No one can say for sure what's in Hillier's mind but I think he owed it to his soldiers to see this through - after all he expects nothing less of them, does he? Somehow my mind keeps coming back to that Vietnamese phrase - di di mau.

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