U.S. Needs Taliban to Regain Afghanistan

U.S. Needs Taliban to Regain Afghanistan

The Taliban are back and stronger and more popular than ever. NATO and the United States will soon have no choice but to negotiate with them six years after driving them out of Kabul. That’s the impression one gets from reading Arab media on the war in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government, led by President Hamid Karzai and backed by the United States and NATO, does not even have full control of Kabul. Basdir Ghafuri, a former professor at Kabul University, told the London-based Arab News Broadcast (ANB) in February 2008, “NATO and the U.S. forces have even failed to establish security in Kabul.”

The Afghan people have lost confidence in NATO and the United States. Journalist and political writer Ahmad Asfahani told ANB, “There is a large segment of the Afghan people who will not accept the presence of occupation forces in Afghanistan and will not accept a government that is linked to the occupation.” Many Afghans do not see much difference between today’s occupation and that of the British in the 19th century or the Soviets from 1979 to 1989.

The Taliban has capitalized on this anti-occupation sentiment by establishing itself as the main resistance force against the occupation. Many Afghans are now willing to overlook the Taliban’s rigid interpretation of Islam. “The Taliban movement is no longer just a former regime. It rather represents a large segment of the Afghan population regardless of whether we agree [with its ideology] or not,” said Asfahani.

Some of the reasons may have to do with the evolution of the Taliban in the last several years. For example, Afghan writer Musbah Alah Abdel Baki wrote on Al Jazeera’s website, “The Taliban focus their attacks on NATO, and avoid attacking the government forces or institutions. They also do not interfere with schools or relief agencies. They usually ask the Afghan forces to stay away from NATO forces so they wouldn’t get hurt when NATO is attacked.”

Another commentator, Muhna al Habil, recently wrote for Islam Today’s website that the Taliban’s Mullah Omar has evolved as a leader. “The statements and speeches made by Mullah Omar prohibited attacks on civilians and condemned attacks on mosques,” wrote al Habil.

According to al Habil, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, the commander for southern Afghanistan, was relieved of his command by Mullah Omar because of his willingness to take money from Arab fighters. This is an indication that the Taliban is trying to operate independently from Al Qaeda.

This could also allow the Western powers to negotiate with the Taliban as a way to attempt to restore stability to Afghanistan. Arab media experts say the war of attrition launched by the Taliban is really aimed at forcing the United States and NATO to the negotiating table.

Though the Taliban insist that they will not negotiate unless the occupation forces leave Afghanistan, Ahmad Asfahani believes that they are just playing tough. The Taliban know that they need NATO to return to power. At the same time, the West has reached the conclusion that they can’t win the war in Afghanistan militarily and will have to use political and economic venues to find a resolution.

NATO-led forces have risen from 33,000 troops in January 2007 to 47,000 in March to confront the increasing attacks by the Taliban. But this number is not enough to win the war. Only three of the 26 NATO countries are willing to send their troops to direct conflict areas in southern Afghanistan.

This means that NATO and U.S. forces have no choice but to negotiate with Taliban to end the fighting. The United States has already proposed the idea of negotiating with the Taliban according to Muhammad Aatif, head of the Afghan Association for Reform and Social Development. He told ANB in August 2007 that the Afghan and Pakistani presidents met for three days in Kabul and 50 members of the Loya Jirga tribal council were selected to negotiate with the Taliban and their supporters. The meeting, he said, had the support of the United States.

On the British side, Hani al-Sibai, director of the London-based al-Maqreze Center of Historical Studies, told ANB that he believes the British who have been doing much of the fighting have been simply making deals with the Taliban and handing some areas back to them. “An agreement was made between the British and the Taliban,” Al-Sibai said, “in which Musa Qala was handed over to the Taliban forces.”

The United States did the same thing in Iraq when they handed Fallujah over to a Ba’ath general after intensive fighting did not establish control of the city. Today former Ba’ath leaders are leading Awakening Councils, or Sahwa, against Al Qaeda. Could the Taliban do the same in Afghanistan for the Americans?

Editor’s Note: The Taliban have changed their tactics in order to capitalize on anti-occupation sentiment in Afghanistan. Now Arab media commentators say the United States and NATO will have to negotiate with a resurgent Taliban in order to reassert control over Afghanistan writes Arab media monitor Jalal Ghazi. Ghazi is the associate producer of the Peabody Award-winning show Mosaic: World News from the Middle East, and writer of the column “Eye on Arab Media” for New America Media.