David Blackburn

Negotiating with the Taliban is fantasy

Negotiating with the Taliban is fantasy
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Lots of photo opportunities for the Prime Minister in Afghanistan, looking almost louche in shirt-sleeves and tie, but he’s attempted to provide some much needed direction for the Afghan mission. Last month, David Miliband said that Nato must talk to the Taliban and the Guardian reports that Brown is considering reconciliation also. Here are the details:

'A source close to Brown suggested negotiations with insurgents sympathetic to the Taliban, persuading them to switch sides, now formed a key component of Britain's war effort. He added: "The more reconciliation, the better."

Diplomatic sources in Helmand suggested such efforts could be on a large scale: "A large part of the Taliban are not really committed to their agenda. They are fighting for tactical reasons and can be brought back into mainstream life."

Brown also suggested the planned training of an Afghan army capable of taking responsibility for its own country's defence could be accelerated by a year, potentially speeding up the departure of Nato troops. A major US review of the military strategy due shortly is expected to focus on the same issue.'

Increasing Afghan troop numbers is welcome and the Taliban may be a loose confederation, elements of which could be bought by Nato – corruption being Afghanistan’s chief currency. But negotiating with the Taliban, as things currently stand, is fanciful. Northern Ireland is the model, but it’s inapplicable to Afghanistan. Negotiations only began when the British had established a position of strength, forcing the IRA, and loyalist paramilitaries, to make concessions. Diplomatic sources in Kabul say that sections of the Taliban are fighting for “tactical reasons”, not ideology. I take that to mean they are fighting to retain control of a specific region, against what they perceive as a foreign invader and its invasive puppet government. It's feudalism in action. The Afghan election debacle is a stark indication that Taliban militias still control swathes of the country: only 3 of Helmand’s 13 electoral districts opened their polling stations. The idea that elements of the Taliban will concede that hegemony for anything other than money, money and even more money is far-fetched.