David Blackburn

Is the West rich enough to buy the Taliban?

Is the West rich enough to buy the Taliban?
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The Lancaster House conference commences this morning and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has penned a stupefyingly worthy article in the Times, playing the same old tunes about the intention to 'improve governance, fight corruption and bring Taleban fighters back into society if they are ready to lay down their arms.'

The Afghanistan mission has clarity of purpose in that attempts to build a democracy have been abandoned in favour of establishing lasting Afghan security. The nascent strategy relies too heavily on the Afghan National Army; as Daniel Korski notes, the non-ideological Taliban, those inscrutable soldiers of fortune, will facilitate or undermine stability. Richard Holbrooke is adamant that:

“The overwhelming majority of these people are not ideological supporters of Mullah Omar and al-Qaeda. Based on interviews with prisoners, returnees, experts, there must be at least 70 per cent of these people who are not fighting for anything to do with those causes.”

If elements of the Taliban are fighting to protect local privileges, resist Kabul’s interference or more probably just for money, NATO must develop an arm in backhanders. The Times reports that the Conference will establish a Ghazi slush fund:

‘The conference is expected to agree a $500 million (£310 million), five-year fund for President Karzai to “buy off” insurgents who are not ideologically committed to destroying the West.

Downing Street confirmed that Britain will make a contribution of a “few million”. Germany has agreed to $70 million over five years and the bulk of the money will come from the Japanese aid budget to Afghanistan, diplomats suggested.’

This is welcome but will it be sufficient? Estimates of what the Taliban pay their fighters vary dramatically, but it is thought to be around $15 a day, well above the average wage for a labourer. If NATO intends to buy 70 percent of the Taliban, itsmembers will need to give more than “a few million”. Aid budgets will have to be used to fund these bribes - there's little point in building bridges if they are blown up immediately by some dog of war.