British advocate negotiations with the Taliban Quetta Shura


A British memo that advocates reconciliation with the Taliban – all the way to the top level with the Quetta Shura – has surfaced. The BBC has the report:

“We must weaken and divide the Taliban if we are to reduce the insurgency to a level that can be managed and contained by the Afghan Security Forces,” begins a section headed “Agenda Items 3”.

“This can be achieved by a combination of military pressure and clear signals that the option of an honourable exit from the fight exists.

“Putting in place the right combination of carrot and stick, at the right moment, will be critical to changing the calculations of individual commanders and their men.”

The memo then calls for an Afghan-led, internationally backed process that works on three levels.

Firstly “tactical”, involving reintegrating foot soldiers and their immediate commanders.

Secondly “operational”, involving the reintegration of the Taliban’s “shadow governors”, senior commanders and their forces.

Finally, what is called “strategic”. The latter is described as “reconciliation – a settlement with (most of) the Quetta Shura.”

The memo ignores the realities on the ground in Afghanistan and in NATO capitals, and is fueled by a deep misunderstanding of the nature of the Taliban.

First, in order for any sort of reconciliation to be effective, the insurgents must feel they have lost the advantage, both militarily and with support among the people. In case the authors of this plan haven’t been paying attention, the Taliban do not perceive they’ve lost local support or are at a military disadvantage. In fact, the Taliban are in a far better position today than at any time since they were ousted from power in 2001. They’ve openly said this, and the facts on the ground support it.

In order for the Taliban to be pushed to the negotiating table, they must suffer defeats on the battlefield – the Taliban must be driven back from areas where they’ve made gains over the past several years, such as in the West, North, and Center, and must lose ground in the South and East. The Afghan people must perceive the Taliban as losing; they must detect that the Coalition and Afghan forces are in control, will remain in control, and will eventually provide the basic needs of local governance. In order to accomplish this, NATO must commit tens of thousands of forces (the Afghan Army and police are not ready, and won’t be for years or even decades). It isn’t clear that the estimated 25,000 to 40,000 US troops that will likely be deployed are enough to deal the Taliban such a quick, major blow.

Instead, all that is coming from NATO capitals is talk of negotiations with the Taliban while the Taliban are strong; delays in decision making over strategy and troop deployments; talk from Brits of withdrawing forces from Helmand in 2010 and turning control over to the Afghan security forces, which are incapable of taking the reins; the US withdrawing from rural areas and allowing the Taliban to operate in the open; the US senior general in Afghanistan is at odds with the ambassador over troop deployments, etc. The Taliban smell blood in the water, and the Afghan people see weakness.

Second, the timeframe for executing the reconciliation plan is absurd: The advocates say the low-level commanders and foot soldiers can be integrated within three months of execution, “reconciled” Taliban leaders will be removed from the UN sanctions list in six months, and a national loya jirga, or council, would be called in two years [this appears to be the “strategic reconciliation” with the Quetta Shura mentioned above]. How can this happen without committing to bloodying the Taliban?

Third, the entire premise that the Taliban are a loosely organized, shallow, nationalistic insurgency that is craving a political solution with the West is just flat out wrong. In addition, the writers of the British memo seem to completely ignore the influence of al Qaeda. Thomas Joscelyn and I made the case that the Taliban factions and al Qaeda cooperate far more closely than analysts think in “Al Qaeda is the tip of the jihadist spear.” In fact, Al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network are closely integrated, while the Quetta Shura and al Qaeda maintain very close ties.

Finally, what is to be done about the Taliban operating from Pakistan? This isn’t even addressed, and as long as that safe haven exists, the Taliban will remain dangerous in Afghanistan.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Jimmy says:

    “Finally, what is to be done about the Taliban operating from Pakistan? This isn’t even addressed, and as long as that safe haven exists, the Taliban will remain dangerous in Afghanistan.”
    Exactly!! Afghanistan is a deep sand-pit with Pakistan (and maybe Iran) on the surface periphery. The taliban are in Pakistan and stand on the periphery of this sand-pit. They just keep throwing more and more sand from the top in this pit burrying anyone inside. No matter how many soldiers you pour into this pit called Afghanistan…unless the taliban are not smoked out from Pakistan they will continue throwing sand into this pit, burrying even the additional soldiers pumped into afghanistan.
    Also, most of the supply lines for NATO soldiers in Afghanistan go through that part of Pakistan where Taliban reside. Pakistan and Taliban have skillfully choked NATO inside Afghanistan by clutching at its jugular vein. Once again, unless Taliban is not smoked out from inside Pakistan, the troops inside Afghanistan will starve! The same thing happened to the Soviets. The problem is that the Soviets and NATO acknowledge and honour the Durrand Line but the Taliban DO NOT!!!! The only solution is that NATO has to operate behind enemy lines inside Pakistan on the eastern front of Taliban in addition to on their western front in Afghanistan so that Nato can choke the taliban just as the taliban are now choking Nato. Taliban just escape eastwards deeper and deeper into Pakistan wherever they are challenged only on their western front into Afghanistan. So care must be taken to flank them on both sides. Otherwise at one point they may spill over into India which is friendly to NATO.
    Actually, this means to militarily pressure Pakistan into smoking out the Quetta Shura (also threatening to stop aid unless it obliges). This should be possible now that alternate supply routes are being opened by NATO. Or conduct covert operations deep inside Pakistan on the eastern flank of the taliban choking then inside Quetta. Or simply invade Pakistan. If none of these three alternatives are suitable or possible for NATO, then sorry to say but NATO is doomed to defeat at the hands of the Taliban and Pakistan.
    Also, STOP TRUSTING PAKISTAN!! IT IS NOT AND WILL NOT HELP NATO!! STOP PROVIDING ARMS AND MONEY TO PAKISTAN. IT WILL ONLY TRANSFER THIS TECHNOLOGY TO THE TALIBAN WHO IN TURN USE IT TO KILL NATO. In other words NATO weapons kill NATO soldiers! NATO is paying to have its own soldiers killed!! Why do you think Pakistan is bankrupt even after America has been dumping so much cash on it for the past 10 years? Because all of it goes to the Taliban to fight NATO in afghanistan. None of the money is used to feed and educate the poor Pakistanis. Its a bottomless pit. Unless NATO understands these simple facts, it will never succeed in Afghanistan. Hope Bill Riogio conveys this forward.

  • Abheek says:

    Sensible analysis Jimmy .. as far as Britan goes, it is big embrassment for them, isn’t it? They would be losing face world over – ill trained, ill-equipped army of semi-literate school drop-outs seem to have brought the kingdom to its knees …

  • KW64 says:

    Re: Jimmy above,
    Actually, the Pakistani army is doing far more than I expected earlier this year and the US and NATO are doing far less.
    I think the Paks attacking one group at a time can make sense if you do not have the resources to attack them all at once. Previous PAK efforts stalled and lead to withdrawl and Taliban victory. Their current efforts have lasted the summer and fall and has taken much territory away from the Taliban.
    On the Afghan side of the border, NATO/US delayed our offensives to take territory before the election too long and there was not time to conduct real elections in much of the areas retaken; so there was little participation and much fraud. Then we badmouthed Karzai’s government thus weakening it.
    I can understand holding back troops to force Karzai to accept a fairer 2nd election round but Abdullah withdrew so that effort failed. I can somewhat understand holding troops back to encourage Karzai to bring Abdullah’s people into the government, but that also failed. So now we have no intiative, the Karzai government is tainted and the opportunity to keep the Taliban on the move during the winter was lost. We also won’t have our troops in place for the spring offensives if we get them there at all.
    None of that is Pakistan’s fault. It is ours and our Western Allies.
    Now it is time to get our forces in and for western leaders to display determination that will stop the declining moral among our friends and our forces. We can still win if we show leadership and determination but time and domestic political support are slipping away along with the confidence of the afghan people in us.

  • Ali says:

    – With the West as popular as it is in Pakistan, an invasion would be met by near universal resistance by Pakistanis. It’d be far costlier than Iraq or Afghanistan. The slow build-up of hatred for the Taliban as a result of the mess they’ve created in Pakistan would vanish.
    – The collapse of the Pakistani state will cede space to the Taliban to operate with impunity in stateless areas a la Waziristan or Nuristan. If India is worried about Pakistan not taking action against terrorists now, it’ll have a far larger mess on its hands.
    – The US would need to control an entire strip across Pakistan to maintain supplies in Afghanistan, and to supply efforts in Pakistan. It is very likely they will be choked to a standstill in major regions.
    – China won’t be too happy about an invasion in its backyard either. It won’t be able to stop it, but the US will have taken a conscious decision to pursue a confrontationist approach with the Chinese.
    – Finally, I’d hope America realizes that Pakistan is not equal to Taliban. Unfortunately, the “AfPak” strategy suggests they find it hard to treat two countries as two different situations. The ability of the Taliban to operate on both sides of the border notwithstanding, Pakistan and Afghanistan are like night and day in most areas.
    Pakistan has a large middle-class that may not be pro-US, but is westernized and is certainly not pro-Taliban. Pakistan has a large army funded and trained by America. It certainly has been more pro-NATO historically than India. The Pakistani Army has historically been very pliable to American interests (its kowtowing to American interests in the Cold War and eagerness for CIA money is a big part of what got us here in the first place) , and remains significantly so today. Most of the Guantanamo prisoners were captured by Pakistan. The list goes on.
    Pressure would work, but since Pakistan continues relationships with former mujahideen in and around Afghanistan as a hedge against an American withdrawal and the expansion of pro-India groups, it would take A LOT of pressure.
    Covert (or rather, undeclared) ops might work tactically, but would fan anti-US sentiments in the country to no end. The conspiracy theorists will have a field day, and it seems an awfully myopic strategy to me. Even with the drones, I’m not sure why the Americans couldn’t have conducted that operation by selling some drones to Pakistan with the agreement that their operation will be heavily supervised. America would run the risk of Pakistan siphoning off some of the tech for its own use, but the PR win this hands the Taliban would be avoided.
    It makes far more sense to fix Pakistan’s relationship with India. Obama used to talk about a Kashmir settlement, but backed off allegedly due to Indian pressure. Making progress on that would do far more for America and India as well as Pakistan, than turning up the wick in Pakistan.


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