Bribe the Taliban?
By Staff News & Analysis - March 22, 2010

Two Russian veterans of the Soviet Afghan war privately warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal last summer that the key to winning the war would be to pay off the Taliban. The official who wrote up a summary of two meetings between the Russians and U.S. military commanders also wrote that one of the "key take-aways" from the meetings was that extra troops were not the key to victory. has obtained a document summarizing the discussions between two veterans of the Soviet Union's failed Afghan war and McChrystal, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, during an August 2009 video teleconference. The document also summarizes a private in-person meeting in Moscow between the two Russians and American Brig. Gen. Henry Nowak. – ABC

Dominant Social Theme: In war any means are justifiable.

Free-Market Analysis: This article on bribing the Taliban has seemingly caused a minor Internet stir, as it has been picked up on many sites, though it was first reported apparently by ABC, see above. It fits in with the larger message both Americans and Europeans have come to understand – that the war in Afghanistan is basically over and that the main issue being debated now is how best to get out. In this brief analysis, we will use the above advice being given to the American military (which it has already stated it will formally reject) as a jumping off point to further update our readers on a very confusing situation – but one that has both sociopolitical and investment ramifications.

While the American high command has already responded to the above article by stating that there will be no bribing of the Taliban, the advice merely reinforces the cynical view of the Allied military situation – that the decision has already been taken to go home. Thus the continued fighting is merely, in a melancholy way, a kind of formality. Of course it doesn't feel like that for those being shot at. And the American – Allied – generals would no doubt dispute that formulation, claiming that victories at Marjah and elsewhere will so discombobulate the Taliban that American objectives in Afghanistan can generally be achieved.

What are those objectives? The Americans want to leave behind in Afghanistan a functioning Afghan democratic governance that includes both a military and civilian police force. Also, the idea is, apparently, that the Americans in particular will not leave entirely as there are many bases being built which indicate further occupation. Whether these goals are achievable remain to be seen.

There are several problems, currently, with the American/Allied military surge now taking shape in Afghanistan. Recently, the allied troops (mostly Americans) had success in vanquishing the Taliban from a place called Marjah, which is actually a farming community. One thing that should be pointed out is that Marjah was portrayed in American media as something of a city when in fact there is apparently hardly a central town to the region. It is basically, non-military reports say, a strung-out farming community.

The portrayal of Marjah as an urban center is part and parcel of the US military's inescapable instinct to propagandize the war. This is most useful when a war is being fought between two fairly equal sides and staying power is necessary to win the day. Then it is important to keep up the moral of the citizens back home. But in a sense the US military has already lost the propaganda battle insofar as Afghanistan is concerned. The US military is leaving Afghanistan – that's the plan that has been announced publicly. Not only that, but the US military at this point has little control over the news that comes out of the war zone. One can look on the Internet and in short order find dozens of articles from the Middle East especially that give one a perspective far more informed than that provided by American mainstream media, which seems somewhat constrained.

What is the point of prolonging the war? The gains that the American/Allied troops and generals hope to make have not been realized yet. More soldiers and police have to be trained, the Taliban has to be run out of Afghanistan proper and Kabul's authority has to be asserted throughout the country. There are forces arrayed against these goals, however – the main one being the stated intention of the Americans to leave. This understanding allows the Taliban considerable psychological breathing room. It can either up the level of violence (which it is doing) in hopes of driving the war to a quicker conclusion, or it can lie back and wait for the inevitable unwinding. Or perhaps it can do both.

The main political players in the war, in addition to the Taliban, the ethnic Pashtuns (that provide most of the Taliban), are India and Pakistan. Pakistan is riven with political/military factions, and though of late the state itself has started to crack down on the Taliban, there remain questions as to why Pakistan is now taking a harder line and how far Pakistan is wiling to go. American officials, of course are encouraging the Pakistan civilian and military authorities to be far more aggressive with the Taliban. In return, Pakistan is getting a good deal of funding and military equipment from the US. This has not sat well with India, which has stepped up its involvement in Afghanistan and is providing that country with significant foreign aid.

One wonders with all these cross-currents and power players how the current war will play out. Even if the Americans and allies do manage to establish the Kabul/Karzai government more firmly, the government will have to woo 40 million or so Pashtuns to survive. Additionally, any government will have to come to terms with both Pakistan and India to ensure its longevity. One is led to believe, therefore, that part of what the American/allied troops are doing in Afghanistan has to do with providing the folks back home with assurances that the war has not been a waste of blood and treasure. It is, in other words, something of a PR exercise. The trouble with this scenario, of course, is that it merely adds more waste to the tragedy that war inevitably is.

If part of the reason that American/Allied forces are staying in Afghanistan has to do with reinforcing the perception that Western troops will leave successfully, and on their own terms, this would not be surprising. There are reports that Iraq has been handled in a similar fashion. Here's a feedback from "modeldon1" on the ABC website, responding generally to the article excerpted at the beginning of this analysis, as follows:

The so-called surge and its success has reached mythic proportions in America and its political discourse. 1. Name one military battle won during this surge? 2. Name one insurgent unit destroyed during this surge? The surge was a homegrown political concoction designed to give the illusion of victory. Its target was the American people. The reality is that $3 billion a month is spent in the Sunni villages and to certain high profile leaders on the Shiite side. The money (cash) is delivered by flatbed and dispersed in the villages. The purpose of the money is to rent the insurgent guns. When payments are late or to little off go the bombs. NO ONE has been converted or defeated. And winning never was an option. It is just the home images that are created to bamboozle the home audience. The media are in on the scam. NO ONE wants to come clean and say these were the wrong wars, wrong enemies, wrong time, and wrong places. NO ONE wants to say 60k lives have been lost – killed and wounded – to service a right wing ideology run amok. But sooner or later we will get there. Unfortunately when we draw down to the magic number (whatever that is) the bought off insurgents may want to win one for Iraq. That will not be pretty. Can it work to buy time in Afghanistan? Sure. But to buy time to postpone the withdrawal will only repeat the coming scenario in Iraq.

The best case for the American/allied cause would be an orderly withdrawal leaving behind a Karzai government fully in charge. But how long would such a government last without a continuing American occupation? Unless the Taliban is thoroughly defeated, its fighters and commanders will continue to be a force in Afghan politics along with the Pashtuns, the Pakistanis, India and various other ethnic Afghan minorities. The amount of influence that America and its allies may have purchased for themselves through fighting might diminish markedly as these various factions jockey for position in a post-war Afghanistan.

Both in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would seem, the net result of American/allied interference will have been to create a new political dynamic, but it is not necessarily one that will redound to the West's benefit, long-term. The 21st century does not offer America or the allies the opportunities of the colonial occupations of the British in the 1800s. In fact, the chances would seem slim for a Western sociopolitical infrastructure being successfully established in either of these countries, absent a long-term commitment of troops and state department bureaucrats.

Aren't wars often fought for domestic reasons? There is no doubt that the twin wars waged in the first decade of the 2000s have increasingly militarized Anglo-American societies. Yet we are not so sure that there will be many tangible benefits seen by either Britain or America as time goes on and the West's presence in Afghanistan and Iraq diminish. Or course, there is always Iran. Recently American officials have accused Iran of meddling in the Iraq elections and also providing the Taliban with munitions help and other aid. These accusations may be preparatory to ratcheting up tensions with Iran even further.

For this reason, we mentioned at the beginning of this article about how Middle Eastern wars could prove both an investing and sociopolitical issue. If the US does become involved in Iran from a military perspective, even a single bombing run, the results might radically change the situation on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

After Thoughts

A further foray against Iran's supposed nuclear facilities would be foolhardy (given Iran's sheer size and location) but the resultant chaos might change the fortunes of war and create a dynamic for an even larger, renewed struggle that would encompass all three countries and yet more besides. Would it be preferable to a gradual loss of influence in Afghanistan and Iraq, as might seem likely? That is not for us to decide. But one thing is certain. Anyone who values his of her pocketbook may want to keep an eye on the Middle East over the coming weeks and months. Nothing is certain. Very little seems settled.

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