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Afghanistan: no time-table, no peace

Though barely reported in the mainstream press, evidence continues to mount that US, not Taliban, intransigence is the real barrier to a peace deal to end the war in Afghanistan.

Indeed, according to a recent report for Inter Press Service (IPS) by journalist and historian Gareth Porter, the Taliban’s leadership is prepared to negotiate a peace settlement as soon as the US “indicates its willingness to provide a timetable for complete withdrawal.”

Ready to withdraw?

Taliban officials explained the movement’s position in late July during a meeting in Kabul with the former Afghan Prime Minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai.

“They said once the Americans say ‘we are ready to withdraw’, they will sit with them,” Ahmadzai recounted. “The timetable is up to the Americans.”

Ahmadzai’s claim chimes with earlier reports that the Taliban were willing to accept a phased withdrawal of foreign forces and their replacement by a peacekeeping force drawn from predominantly Muslim nations (see “A Taliban Peace Plan”, PN 2511)

10 more years

The US on the other hand is more concerned with maintaining a strategic foothold in the country than it is in ending the war.

According to the Telegraph the US and the US-backed Afghan Government of Hamid Karzai are “close to signing a strategic pact [that] would allow thousands of [US] troops to remain in the country until at least 2024” – ten years after all US “combat forces” are supposed to have left the country.

The paper reports that the US has already agreed the “majority of small print” of a deal that will allow not only trainers but US special forces and air power to remain inside the country.

Deja vu all over again

Ahmadzai also revealed that he had helped arrange a meeting between a senior Taliban leader and US Special Forces commander Edward M Reeder in the summer of 2009.

The Taliban were happy to sever their ties with al-Qaeda, but were not prepared to agree to US demands for military bases in the country. An earlier set of talks in 2007 apparently broke down for the same reason.

“[T]he Taliban,” Porter notes, “clearly concluded that the [US] would not negotiate with [it] except on the basis of accepting [a] US permanent military presence in Afghanistan.”

A secondary consideration

Meanwhile, Britain continues to support the blood-letting, with David Cameron announcing that the UK will not begin withdrawing significant numbers of troops until 2013.

Moreover, Afghan lives are officially deemed less important than British ones: according to internal MoD documents obtained using the Freedom of Information Act the “avoidance of collateral damage” (ie. civilian deaths) is now a “secondary consideration” to avoiding “friendly fire” deaths of military personnel.

The Stop the War Coalition are organising an “Anti-War Mass Assembly” in Trafalgar Square from 12 noon on Saturday 8 October to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and to demand the immediate withdrawal of British troops. www.stopwar.org, 020 7801 2768