CFR’s Biddle, Markey: Not So Hot on Karzai-Taliban Talks
Interesting phone chat today with the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steve Biddle and Dan Markey, both of whom recently visited Afghanistan and shared some thoughts on the war. Neither is really hot on the prospects for what’s increasingly being called “reconciliation” between the Karzai government and the Taliban. This is the case even if we’re not talking about what Gen. McKiernan calls the “Capital-T” Taliban and just focus on the less-dedicated members of what you could call the Taliban’s coalition.
For one thing, Biddle said, no one he’s talked to has a good idea about what the Karzai government can offer the warlords or the Lowercase-T Taliban that can “compete… with the status, power, prestige and money” that goes along with fighting the government. And that’s a really crucial point: why should anyone back what seems to be the losing side? You need to make people feel as if they’d benefit immediately by siding with an inevitable winner. Similarly, working directly with the tribes is seen as “a niche opportunity,” he added, and concerns about whether the Taliban has *already *hollowed out the tribal structure in Afghanistan over the past decade-plus leads U.S. commanders to prefer the euphemism “community outreach,” lest they place too much legitimacy in a weakened apparatus.
Markey added another interesting point. With the arrival of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, U.S. military commanders are hardly averse to negotiating, but we should expect what he called a “fight and negotiate” model, not one where U.S. troops take a knee every time there’s a sit-down with particular insurgents. On some level, that looks a little bit like what U.S. troops tried to do, with mixed results, in the Sunni areas of Iraq in 2005 and early 2006. I’m reluctant to draw any implications out from that, since the circumstances are vastly different — and because it’s not really clear how much those Iraq talks paved the way for the Anbar Awakening — but it did strike me as at least superficially similar.
One thing that both Biddle and Markey agreed on: seriously tough fighting awaits in 2009, as several brigades’ worth of U.S. troops arrive in Afghanistan. We’ll see what that means for the prospects for Karzai-Taliban reconciliation during and after that, pace Joe Collins.