A Tale of Two Contacts
By Staff News & Analysis - October 07, 2010

Taliban in high-level talks with Karzai government, sources say … The talks follow inconclusive meetings, hosted by Saudi Arabia, that ended more than a year ago. While emphasizing the preliminary nature of the current discussions, the sources said that for the first time they believe that Taliban representatives are fully authorized to speak for the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban organization based in Pakistan, and its leader, Mohammad Omar … Taliban representatives and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai (left) have begun secret, high-level talks over a negotiated end to the war, according to Afghan and Arab sources. "They are very, very serious about finding a way out," one source close to the talks said of the Taliban. – Yahoo

Dominant Social Theme: Put enough pressure on 'em and they will begin to talk.

Free-Market Analysis: Unlike most of the mainstream press and even a good deal of the alternative press, the Daily Bell has continually expressed skepticism over the war in Afghanistan. We are in fact almost alone in our conclusion that the Iraq "surge" had little or nothing to do with what passes for peace there today – and a good deal to do with paying off Sunni and Shia rival gangs to keep the peace themselves. This would in fact explain why Iraq is finding it so hard to form a government. Nobody has been reconciled, really – just been paid off. Sub dominant social theme: The US military always finds a way to win, and NATO does too.

In World Wars One and Two, the US was fighting European enemies in various venues – but the indigenous populations were likely not aligned against the US. Post-World War Two, the kinds of wars that the US has been fighting are a good deal less "friendly" and the results have been a good deal less clear cut.

When one fights against indigenous populations half a world away (with tenuous supply lines and the impossible task of determined who is the friend and who is the enemy) problems tend to be more complex. The British were certainly successful with "divide and conquer" because it is always necessary to find an indigenous group that backs the incursion. If a reliable one cannot be found – Korea and VietNam come to mind – then the war is almost inevitably stalemated.

We wrote an article in early September, "Afghanistan End Game." in which we tried to summarize the problems afflicting the war from the Western standpoint. The problem, as we have noted for almost a year now, is that the Taliban is drawn from the Pashtuns, a homogeneous tribal entity located both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Additionally, the Punjabis running Pakistan are determined to support the Pashtun/Taliban to ensure that Afghanistan does not get taken over by a government sympathetic to the US and Pakistan's arch enemy India. We added the following:

What this means then, is a combined tribal might of some 180 millions of local Pashtuns and Punjabis actively or passively oppose the West. The Punjabis will probably never cease to harbor these Taliban because they provide essential leverage in Pakistan's effort to contain India by creating an Afghan government allied with Pakistan. It is almost puzzling to watch NATO and the Anglo-American axis go through the motions of a "surge" designed to pacify Afghanistan. Having set up a banking system (now self destructing) the Western powers-that-be are constructing an Afghan army and civilian police from scratch along with government-in-a-box that is to be rolled out in Pashtun areas. But this surmises that the Pashtuns are merely concerned about security and have an affinity for Western style civilian governance. They do not, from what we can tell.

The idea that has become fashionable in the Western media lately is that NATO and the US will put so much pressure on the Pashtun/Taliban that the Taliban will be forced to come to the table. NATO and US forces point to "feelers" that the Taliban is making as the military pressure is said to build on them (see article excerpt at the beginning of this analysis). But then there is this from the Pakistan Tribune:

Taliban leader says Karzai never contacted them for talks … Questioning the sincerity of Afghan government, an important Taliban leader on Sunday said President Hamid Karzai had never contacted Taliban leadership for talks. "Till now, Karzai has neither sent any message to Taliban leadership nor contacted them for negotiations. The claims of Karzai and his allies about peace talks are restricted only to the media," said the Taliban leader while wishing not to be named. He told the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) that President Karzai could have contacted the Taliban leaders if he was sincere in holding peace negotiations. The Karzai government and foreigners were trying to contact low-ranking Taliban in order to split them from Taliban and persuade them to join the government and not for solution to the basic issue, he said.

We would surmise that sooner or later there will be talks. And perhaps there are "contacts ongoing." But it certainly doesn't sound like any serious conversations are taking place, or not yet anyway. We would expect to see a good deal more confusion about the status of "talks" as the war inevitably winds down in between additional twists and turns. The question will surely become whether the talks are meaningful or merely a face-saving device.

NATO is training the Afghanistan military and civilian police at breakneck speed but all this will do in our estimation is to help with the potential break up of the country (such as it is). The dirty little secret here is that the army and police force are not made up of Pashtuns but of their ethnic adversaries. In order to maintain the narrative that the US is "imposing stability" on Afghanistan, Western leaders seem to be actively laying the groundwork for a civil war once the West has departed.

It is somewhat cynical in our view for Western leaders to reach the conclusion (as apparently they have) that creating a "narrative" of victory in Afghanistan is more important than helping the poor people in that country to live in peace. But we would also guess that emphasizing a narrative over victory (whatever that is) will not prove feasible in the deeper sense. The US cannot attack the Taliban in Pakistan without turning a local war into a serious regional one (complete with nuclear weapons) and it cannot truly dislodge the Pashtun/Taliban from Afghanistan either, as it is where these people live.

After Thoughts

The chances of the US and NATO putting any meaningful pressure on the Taliban in a fairly compressed time period are not large in our humble estimation. Hopefully, now that the disengagement has frankly started, it can be brought to fruition with a minimum of posturing, so Afghanistan gets a chance to rest and heal. However, the US is a frankly authoritarian environment these days and getting out may prove more complicated than getting in. If so, nobody wins. The country may even end up partitioned between the Pashtuns and their ethnic rivals, as we pointed out in a recent article. Afghanistan is often the graveyard of empires.

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