Afghanistan Exit Strategy Agreed To On Thursday

January 31, 2010

World leaders meeting in London Thursday agreed to a timetable for an exit strategy in Afghanistan. The exit could start as early as the end of this year.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has stated that it could take up to 10 years before his forces can properly secure the country. He has proposed a policy of outreach to the Taliban for the interim; however, it is unknown if engagement with the Taliban is even possible. Just planning Taliban overtures is a problematic gamble, because it raises questions of which factions to pursue, where to stop in the Taliban chain of command, and how to bargain with political dissidents who crave exerting state authority and control.

Many of the conflicts in Afghanistan are based on local grievances. One way to separate any “good” Taliban from the “bad” is to focus on issues dealing with particular local populations. Karzai and his strategic partners hope that militants who were galvanized by local disagreements can be reformed while the factions that fight for a global jihadi movement will be omitted and frozen out.

The current planning for an Afghanistan exit strategy is one more example of the United States trying to deduce how it should approach state governments with questionable legitimacy. Governments that have a tradition of violence and extremist opposition such as Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, Pakistan, and now Yemen, have become key fronts for the U.S. War On Terror. The U.S. is testing the idea that the governments listed need to eventually come to a reconciliation with their militant foes if the United States ever hopes to withdraw its troops. Furthermore, American officials are using any reconciliation talks in Afghanistan as a way to neutralize Taliban regional control. The talks would be designed to dismantle some parts of the Taliban while excluding the more hostile factions. American strategists are hoping that if the Afghan Taliban becomes politically impotent, it will lead to a change in their behavior.

I have been very vocal in my views on outreach to the Taliban. As I have previously stated, I believe that the concept of “good” and “bad” Taliban is flawed. Followers of the Taliban by definition seek to overthrow the political status-quo; therefore, believing that some of these followers could be “good” is a perilous and ill-advised gamble. The Taliban is made up of so many different actors and it’s hierarchy is so fluctuating that the various factions under the Taliban umbrella change their ambitions and allegiances over time. Taliban actors are not dependable in either short-term or long-term agreements.

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