Killing the patient

IssueJuly / August 2011
News by Gabriel Carlyle

Recent claims by Afghan president Hamid Karzai that the US has started “peace talks” with the Taliban – and official US confirmation that it has been engaged in “very preliminary” contacts with them – have fuelled media speculation about the possibilty of a negotiated end to the war, the option long favoured by the majority of ordinary Afghans (see PN 2530).

Though US officials have publicly justified military escalation by claiming that it is needed to force the Taliban to the negotiating table, in reality the “industrial-scale” killing of alleged Taliban commanders by special forces raids has been closing down the possibilties for talks.

Thus, Haji din Mohammed, head of the contact committee of the high peace council – the Afghan government body in charge of peace talks – recently told the Sunday Times: “They’re killing people we want to talk to and the new generation aren’t interested in talking at all.... The operation has been successful — NATO is killing a lot of people — but the patient is still dying.”

Nonetheless, some members of the US foreign policy-making elite have long advocated exactly this. According to a secret cable released by Wikileaks earlier this year, in November 2008, the US national intelligence officer for South Asia, James Lavoy, briefed a meeting of NATO permanent representatives that: “The international community should put intense pressure on the Taliban in 2009 in order to bring out their more violent and ideologically-radical tendencies. This will alienate the population and give us an opportunity to separate the Taliban from the population” (emphasis added).

Predictably, the impact of such a policy on ordinary Afghans was a matter of no significance.

Former Ambassador calls for ceasefire

"It was a terrible dilemma staying honest while knowing the brief from your client. It is the dilemma of any barrister representing a criminal.” – Sherard Cowper-Coles on his time as the UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan

“[T]hat there’s increased violence does not indicate that in any way we are losing in this conflict.” – Liam Fox, defence secretary

Britain’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles, has called on Western policy-makers to “use the Muslim holy month [of Ramadan], or one of the great Muslim feasts that follow it, to declare an end to all offensive operations in Afghanistan” (Times, 8 June).

Such a move, he notes “would show that the West was serious about making peace” and “could launch the kind of deep national reconciliation that is essential if Afghanistan is not to plunge back into a deep dark age of civil war once NATO leaves”.

Cowper-Coles also told the Guardian that the current commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, US general David Petraeus, should be “ashamed of himself”: “He has increased the violence, trebled the number of special forces raids by British, American, Dutch and Australian special forces going out killing Taliban commanders and there has been a lot more rather regrettable boasting from the military about the body count.... It is profoundly wrong and it’s not conducive to a stable political settlement.”

Criminal clients

Cowper-Coles served as Britain’s ambassador in Afghanistan (2007-2010). Prior to that, as Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, he played a central role in pressuring the serious fraud office to drop its investigations into bribery allegations relating to BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia. In a move whose educational value is surely worth many weighty tomes on UK foreign policy, Cowper-Coles is now BAE’s international business development director, focusing on the Middle East and south-east Asia.

To have one criminal client might be regarded as a misfortune; to have two in succession looks like carelessness....