Military Action Does Not "Weaken" Taliban
On the eve of President Karzai's visit there is a debate taking place over whether the Obama administration should support talks with Taliban leaders or wait until military action further "weakens" the Taliban. The problem is, if anything, military action tends to strengthen the Taliban, as it places US forces in the position of the foreign invader which must be driven out, and draws recruits. Overstaying our welcome has resulted in reawakened feelings of national pride among young men who have seen no economic good come out of the American presence. So you work with whoever is around and whoever pays a wage in the invader-driving-out business. It should also be remembered that the word "Taliban" is a very broad term which includes gangs of hungry men who put on the black turban and haul out the old AK just for an excuse to go around robbing people.
The renewed insurgency is largely due to a failed reconstruction. Afghans were never fond of the Taliban, and their brutal rule is well-remembered. But the dribble of showcase development was measured against the hundreds of billions being spent on jet planes, bombs, armored convoys, and development projects which mostly benefited foreign contractors and a few local cohorts, all while hunger still remains Afghanistan's biggest killer. By leaving unemployment at 40%, and making sure the Taliban has income from opium and is ready to pay 10 bucks a day, and with Special Ops dropping into villages in the middle of the night and shooting kids and pregnant women, you are absolutely guaranteeing a renewed insurgency. It can be said without a trace of irony that just dropping a tiny fraction of war costs in cash out of helicopters over villages in 2002, for nest-eggs and to get that taxi business or fruit stand going, would have had a better social result. But of course, there is no profit in that.
The surest way to weaken the Taliban is to strengthen the Afghan people. Think of a Great Depression-type environment, in which the only people with money are the "undesirable elements" i.e. the Bugsy Seigels and Al Capones and Don Corleones, who are comfortable with violence and no one likes them, but many people depend on them for their livelihoods, and they can hire armies on the cheap. Now a Works Progress Administration comes into town and hires thousands at good money to build a dam, and suddenly people have a choice. Organized crime might still exist, but it would be a nuisance, not society's most dominant force. Steady work and full stomachs do wonders for counter-insurgency.
Contrary to popular belief that all systems of delivering non-military aid in Afghanistan are hopelessly corrupt, there is one program which is being run by honest, hard-working, competent Afghans, which is functioning as an equivalent of the Works Project Administration of our Great Depression. It is currently short of funds, although for what we spend on the mlitary in one month, about $5 billion, it could hire hundreds of thousands of semi-starving Afghans who would then have no use for the Taliban, or US troops for that matter. That program is the National Solidarity Program (NSP), built up from the ground by former minister Ehsan Zia.
On negotiating with the Taliban, we should support talks, but with specific concern over Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. One could make the case that many of the Taliban leaders and Northern Alliance warlords are war criminals in one way or another, and you have to talk to them sometime. But Hekmatyar is in a league by himself. He shelled Kabul in the Nineties specifically to kill as may civilians as he could, and in a country with no shortage of violent men, he is seen as a kind of devil. In his college days he threw acid in womens' faces if they didn't cover up to his liking, and he sometimes skinned his prisoners alive. He probably has no fewer than 20,000 people dead to his credit, documented by rights organizations, compared to a typical 300 or 400 person massacre for a warlord like Dostum, no angel, but still no Hekmatyar. Now Hekmatyar, through his representatives, is threatening American scholars and journalists who bring up his past, detailed in the article linked HERE.
If President Karzai wants to talk to Taliban, the Obama administration should support him, although giving the job-creating Afghan National Solidarity Program about $5 billion might be even more productive. But we should be worried about Hekmatyar, who should really be in front of the Hague. Hekmatyar is not interested in simply coming in from the cold. He is clever, cunning, and ruthless, and allowing him back into government would be delivering Afghans to the worst of elements. All Afghans know about Helmatyar, and the mere mention of his name sends shivers down spines. Talks, yes, but no power-sharing for Hekmatyar.
LInks on Gubuddin Hekmatyar:
--UN Dispatch, "The Bloody Hands of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar"
"Hekmatyar s fighters killed tens of thousands by deliberately
shelling Kabul. They kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed countless
civilians in ways so gruesome that many Afghans, especially Kabul
residents, flinch at the mention of Hekmatyar's name to this day."
--Jamestown Foundation, Washington, DC, "Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Return
to the Afghan Insurgency"
--Institute for the Study of War (Washington DC), "Hizb-i-Islami"
--Ottawa Citizen, "Blame the torturers": "But soon after his arrival,
Ahmed El-Maati joined the army of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a character
reviled as the most vicious of the jihadis. Mr.vHekmatyar wantonly
killed innocent civilians, skinned his prisoners alive and his
soldiers threw acid in the face of any Afghan women who dared not wear
--Voice of America News, "US Designates Gulbuddin Hekmatyar a 'Global
--Registan.net, (Central Asian blog) "Romancing Hekmatyar (and other