Anatol Lieven has a provocative piece over at the National Interest Online on what he calls the “meaningless” Afghan elections and U.S. strategy going forward.
I know very little about Afghanistan, but Lieven’s analysis strikes me as a nuanced argument that avoids the abstract, binary “stay the course/leave now” debate that is emerging among Washington pundits.
For Lieven, the crux of the Afghanistan nut is incorporating the Taliban into the political process. Lieven’s prescriptive recommendations for how to do this are difficult to summarize, but the passage below gives you an idea:
The Taliban should be actively encouraged to form a political wing and to take part in [parliamentary elections next year] along the lines of the bizarre, but in the end very helpful, system in Northern Ireland, where even at the height of the British campaign against the IRA, its political wing, Sinn Fein, remained a legal party and stood for election.
Negotiations should be opened with the Taliban high command on a peace settlement in Afghanistan, the offer on the U.S. side being the promise of an American military withdrawal within a long but fixed timetable, conditional on progressive Taliban ceasefires across increasing areas of the country. Where the Taliban does not agree to a ceasefire, military operations should continue. Pakistan should be used as an intermediary between the United States and the Taliban leadership.
In other words, the United States should pursue a strategy of talking and fighting at the same time. The goal would not be an early peace settlement or an early American and Western military withdrawal, since the first is impossible and the second would be disastrous. Rather, this strategy would recognise that it is to a great extent the Western military presence that is driving support for the Taliban in many of the Pashtun areas.
I’m not sure whether our war in Afghanistan makes sense at all – but if the Obama administration is committed to maintaining a large troop presence there for several years, then we need to entertain tactical arguments like this about how we will eventually extricate ourselves.
You can read Lieven’s article here.
— Ben Katcher