The Financial Times published an extensive interview with General Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan. The interviewer presses McChrystal on the subject of reconciliation, but stops short of asking the general if he would accept Taliban Mullah Omar. Here is the exchange:
FT: The implication seems to be that although it’s not your job to negotiate with insurgents, or determine the shape of a future government, your personal feeling is that it may be the case that one day members of the Taliban are in Kabul, and there’s some sort of peaceful settlement, and that’s acceptable.
Gen McChrystal: As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there’s been enough fighting, and that what we need to do – all of us – is to do the fighting necessary to shape conditions where people can get on with their lives, and everybody can make a decision where fighting’s not the direction that it needs to go in. You just really don’t make progress, politically, during fighting. What I think we do is try to shape conditions which allow people to come to a truly equitable solution to how the Afghan people are governed.
FT: And the Taliban might play a role in that?
Gen McChrystal: I think any Afghans can play a role if they focus on the future, and not the past.
FT: Looking at the picture of the insurgency, how closely do you think the Taliban leaders and insurgent leaders that you’re fighting are linked to militant groups – say al-Qaeda – that would seek to attack western targets?
Gen McChrystal: It’s impossible to paint the Taliban all with one brush. If you try to say the Taliban organisation has this relationship with al-Qaeda, it varies through the organisation. There are members of the Taliban that are very close al-Qaeda, and I think separating from that will be challenging, and probably unlikely. However, I think there’s a huge rank and file in the Taliban that sees al-Qaeda as essentially something from which they get no value and a tremendous amount of pain. In fact the presence of al-Qaeda is one of the reasons why the Taliban was driven from Afghanistan. They don’t want to pay the price for al-Qaeda’s extremism for ever.
Two quick points. First, in my opinion, it is far too soon to discuss any reconciliation with the Taliban. This subject shouldn’t be discussed until the Taliban suffer the military blow McChrystal needs to deliver. The last contingent of ‘surge’ forces will not arrive until September; talking about talks is putting the cart before the horse, and is sending the Taliban the wrong message. The focus on negotiations and reconciliation signals weakness and not strength to the Taliban leaders and followers. The Taliban smartly use these statements in their propaganda.
Second, we keep hearing that huge elements of the rank and file don’t like al Qaeda and are angry that the terror group’s presence caused them to be ousted from power after 9/11. Yet the Taliban have fought for nine years and there is little evidence they have grown tired or “don’t want to pay the price for al-Qaeda’s extremism.” The Haqqani Network, which makes up a significant element of the Taliban, is closely enmeshed with al Qaeda. As are Taliban groups operating in Kunar and Nuristan. Al Qaeda affiliates such as the Turkish Islamic Party and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are active in the North and Northwest. These groups could not operate in these areas without support from the Taliban.
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