James Forsyth James Forsyth

When to talk to the Taliban

Paddy Ashdown has an open letter to Barack Obama’s Pakistan and Afghanistan envoy, Richard Holbrooke, in The Times today. In it, Ashdown makes a crucial point about talking to the Taliban:

“In the end it will probably be necessary, provided they will put aside the gun in favour of the ballot box. But they are in no mood for talking now, because they think they are winning. The first step is get them on the back foot, militarily – which is where the surge is so important. They must be convinced we have the force, the will and the staying power to beat them, before they will come to the table.”

It is often said that there is a fundamental split between the Europeans and the Americans about talking to the Taliban, there isn’t. What there is is a divide about when you talk to them. The Europeans don’t appreciate that the time you talk to them is when you have made clear that you are prepared to beat them militarily and will do so if they won’t accommodate themselves to the new Afghanistan.

PS If anyone doubts that the Afghan mission is under-resourced, consider this fact: “We are trying to win in Afghanistan with one twenty-fifth of the troops and one fiftieth of the aid per head than in Bosnia.”


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