Alas, an integral distinction

The United Nations Security Council’s decision to split international sanctions for the Taleban and Al Qaeda marks a significant chapter in the nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan.

By Faryal Leghari (AFGHANISTAN)

Published: Thu 23 Jun 2011, 9:04 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:50 AM

This denotes an important shift in policy and confirms Washington’s leanings towards a political settlement of the protracted conflict that has proved a bigger test than Iraq.

As President Barack Obama prepares to announce what is expected to be a substantial reduction in troops in July, the crescendo for pulling out of a widely perceived aimless war gets louder. Rumours are also rife about the replacement of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai who has been in the bad books of Washington since some time, for his alleged inability to deal with corruption or the insurgents and shoddy governance.

Another equally significant reason could be Karzai’s growing criticism of the Coalition. The past many months witnessed a furious Karzai lashing out at the foreign forces for the killing of civilians— that has seen an exponential rise over the past year. Even if the Afghan leader is justified in doing so — given how this earns Kabul and the war efforts a bad name and mistrust among the Afghan people — the allies have not been pleased with these very public protestations.

Whether the US is able to replace Karzai given the lack of alternatives at this juncture remains to be seen. The prospect of putting someone from Mullah Omer’s Taleban in Kabul is a bit far fetched or at least at this point. Unless there is a dramatic development and the Taleban are convinced to review their hard line perspective that categorically ruled out any dealings or negotiations with the ‘infidel’ occupiers or the puppet regime in Kabul.

What is significant is that the United States has finally realised the necessity of making the vital distinction between Al Qaeda and the Taleban-led insurgency.

Though the guiding principle was the premise that military means were not sufficient for winning the war, a clear gap in policy formulation vis-à-vis reorienting the efforts towards a political settlement existed and hampered the implementation of any intent to do so. Obviously, the bracketing of Taleban and Al Qaeda together necessitated adherence to certain strictures that prevented unhindered negotiations or even contemplating efforts to work out a power-sharing scenario.

Previous half hearted attempts at weaning off insurgents by luring them with financial incentives and positions in government failed miserably. The only results were the breaking away of some figures in the outside tiers. Similarly, the Taleban’s refusal to negotiate unless all foreign forces leave the country saw a mutual adherence to maximalist positions on either side. This naturally resulted in a lock down of the situation.

However, post Osama bin Laden, the Obama administration have gotten an immense opportunity to redefine the war in Afghanistan. Previously, top US officials had ruled out any talks with the insurgents unless they broke ties with Al Qaeda. Today, efforts have been redirected to separate the insurgents from Al Qaeda. That is indeed positive. Though the past nine years of collusion between the Taleban-led insurgents and Al Qaeda is a fact so are the inherent differences between the two that should never have been sidelined the way they were.

With the first formal admission of the talks between the Taleban and the United States, there is at least a momentum of sorts in the right direction. Obama’s expected downsizing of a sizeable number of troops rumoured to be around 10,000 in the first phase and an equal number later while helping him retain his position in Office for a second electoral term may also prove helpful in negotiating with the insurgents. By proving to the insurgents that eventually the complete exit of forces is a reality, the US does stand a good chance to start a feasible dialogue.

The insurgent groups must also understand that a political settlement negotiated from a position of strength is a better bet than waging a protracted conflict. Even if the odds are against the Coalition winning a guerrilla insurgency, an earlier exit may be easier achieved by entering a dialogue at this point rather than later.

For the insurgents an alliance with Al Qaeda will prove detrimental in the long run not so much for the standoff against the Coalition but primarily for achieving their primary objectives that are part and parcel of a nationalist insurgency and not a global ideological agenda.

How the insurgents are accommodated in the future political constituency is also a big challenge. A lapse in infighting among the varied ethnic groups and warlords dominated factions could prove further destabilising unless all stakeholders including the insurgents make compromises. A tall order, given the propensity to indulge in gun slinging across all tribal and ethnic groups.

It is however not impossible and may be achieved with the inclusion of friendly Muslim states such as the Gulf states, Pakistan (and maybe even Iran) that have time and again proven their commitment to help the Afghan people in difficult times. It may be a good idea for the US to engage the diplomatic offices of these states to cross any deterrents and expedite the process. A revision of strategy on ending the war is the need of the hour not extending it.

Faryal Leghari is Assistant Editor Opinionof Khaleej Times and can be reached at

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