Despite a ‘game changing’ move by the Taliban towards peace talks, the US looks committed to continuing its war in Afghanistan far into the future – albeit retooled to place more emphasis on drones, special forces and local proxies. The consequences for ordinary Afghans are likely to be disastrous.
In January – in a what the New York Times described as ‘a first major public sign that they may be ready for formal talks with the American-led coalition’ – the Taliban declared that it had reached a deal with the Gulf state of Qatar to open an office in Doha. Michael Semple, a worldrenowned expert on the Taliban, described the announcement as ‘completely game-changing’, noting that the move clearly had the support of the movement’s leadership, including its head, mullah Omar.
A former EU envoy to Afghanistan with good contacts among senior Taliban members, Semple told the Guardian that it was ‘realistic to think there could be a ceasefire in 2012’. Of course, such an outcome will only be possible if the US is serious about negotiations. So far, the signs do not look optimistic.
The quick release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay is deemed an essential first step in any genuine peace process. There is no sign of this; and the problem runs even deeper.
To date, the US has opposed negotiations to end the war – long a real possibility, and backed by most ordinary Afghans (see PN 2538) – not least because they would require the eventual withdrawal of all occupying forces from Afghanistan. Indeed, for the last few years US policy has consisted of escalating the war while pursuing a long-term foothold in the country through a strategic pact with Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s (see PN 2537).
However, despite media reports that the US hopes to announce serious peace negotiations at a NATO summit in Chicago this May, the fundamentals of its position do not appear to have changed.
Indeed, the Washington Post reports that the CIA ‘is expected to maintain a large clandestine presence in Iraq and Afghanistan long after the departure of conventional U.S. troops as part of a plan by the Obama administration to rely on a combination of spies and Special Operations forces to protect U.S. interests.’
In Afghanistan this task will include ‘keeping the Taliban off balance, protecting the government in Kabul and preserving access to Afghan airstrips that enable armed CIA drones to hunt al-Qaeda remnants in Pakistan.’ The Taliban’s core demand has always been – and remains – the withdrawal (possibly phased) of all occupying forces from Afghanistan (see PN 2511-12). Thus plans for a long-term presence would, if implemented, dash hopes for a negotiated peace.
The adoption of this so-called ‘Biden strategy’ – which was first mooted prior to Obama’s troop ‘surge’ – is likely to have other disastrous consequences as well. US special forces and their Afghan proxies have long been known to be running what are, in effect, death squads in the country (see PN 2539). The Afghan intelligence service – which, as the Post notes, is ‘largely bankrolled’ by the CIA – is well-known for its use of torture (again, see PN 2539). Anti-Taliban militias created with US/NATO support have become notorious for murdering, raping and abusing civilians, as Human Rights Watch has documented.
The ‘new’ strategy is likely to mean more assassinations, more militias and more torture.
A recently-leaked NATO report, based on interrogations with thousands of captured Taliban fighters, concluded that: ‘While they [the Taliban] are weary of war, they see little hope of negotiated peace… [and] believe that continuing the fight and expanding Taliban governance are their only viable course of action.’ The international peace movement now has a brief window of opportunity to provide an alternative, by forcing the US to the negotiating table.