Nearly a year into the Obama administration's new AfPak strategy the only thing that is clear is that it's not working. Little has changed except the severity of the insurgency. General Petraeus has shifted back to a confused mix of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency (that failed the first time); backing "reconciliation" talks with Taliban leaders while pounding them with overwhelming firepower in the hopes of getting a better deal at the bargaining table.
Matthew Green of the Financial Times doesn't believe the conditions exist for reconciliation given that, "The Taliban and allied Haqqani network, hunkered down in Pakistani havens, believe they can outlast the west." According to David Ignatius at the Washington Post, this "strategy" derives from the idea "that wars in tribal societies are inevitably a mix of talk and shoot," and "With Petraeus in the political-military driver's seat, he can steer a process to push the disparate Taliban groups toward a political settlement."
Never mind that the same basic approach of bomb and talk proved useless in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese knew the U.S. would have to give up and go home for domestic political reasons just like the French had before them. The only difference between the two was the delusional conviction that the U.S. had a workable technological solution when it was actually fighting a war in didn't understand. Neither has Washington caught up with the fact that General Petraeus's strategy of making back-channel deals with insurgents as he did in Iraq simply disintegrates in favor of Al Qaeda and fractured tribal politics once the pressure of American firepower is withdrawn. Then there is the issue of Pakistan's support for the very same extremists that the U.S. is trying to defeat. Can Petraeus really hope to work with Pakistan as an ally while still overcoming their assumption that they have a right to control Afghanistan's internal politics and foreign policy?
In the minds of Washington's most influential Beltway pundits, General Petraeus's strategy of ushering in Taliban factions and despised rebel leaders like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for reconciliation into the government of Hamid Karzai is a stroke of genius because it gets the U.S. out of a bad jam. In reality, it is a plan that will ultimately make the administration's current predicament and its frustrations with the corrupt Karzai government seem like a walk in the park. From 1973 to the present, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been nurtured and supported by a host of outsiders including Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States and China whose ultimate goal is to reshape the ethnic-political and religious structure of Central Asia. But despite that support, his failure resulted in civil war and the creation of a Taliban movement from Pakistan that outdid Hekmatyar's extremism with new levels of violence.
Reconciliation itself isn't the problem. Giving reconciled criminals a legitimate place in the Afghan government - who are paid by foreign interests, are directed by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and have never been held to account for their crimes against the Afghan people - is the problem.
As Khalil Nouri of the New World Strategies Coalition, an Afghan-American organization seeking to implement a de-militarized tribal solution to the conflict puts it, "If this is the reality, then can reconciliation work? The Answer is 'NO' it will never work in the long term; first the country has not healed from its past 35 years of war, the ethnic divide has widened and has complicated the path to nationalism, and there is not a unifier figurehead to calm the country down." Nouri believes that the only solution that will work before NATO withdraws its troops is a traditional Afghan tribal council (Jirga) free of the kind of outside interference that brought Hamid Karzai and the warlords to power in 2002. The irony remains that today's crisis occurred not because the Jirga failed, but because the will of the Jirga was overridden by the political desires of the Bush administration.
Nouri foresees that if this "All Afghan Jirga," is assembled by Afghans for Afghans it can return Afghanistan to a stable state by creating a traditional government that is acceptable to all Afghans regardless of their tribal or ethnic affiliations.
According to Nouri, "The Taliban will succeed in ruling neither the country, - proven by their reign from 1996 to 2001 - nor the puppet government of Hamid Karzai. Nor will the Northern Alliance's endeavor bear any fruit. Afghans who brainstorm together on how to coexist in an "All Afghan Jirga" can neutralize the warlord's grip on power by restoring memories of a time when Afghanistan's own political process enabled the people to live in harmony and peace."
As the U.S. and NATO countries attempt to force-fit another ill-considered solution onto a tribal Afghanistan plagued with social unrest by ushering the "Taliban Elite" into Kabul for Peace Talks, it might do well to recall that western nations were once tribal too and are now in an advanced stage of suffering from what the 1960s pop guru and social prophet, Marshall McLuhan referred to as "re-tribalization."
McLuhan spoke in a 1969 Playboy interview "As man is tribally metamorphosed by the electric media, we all become Chicken Littles, scurrying around frantically in search of our former identities, and in the process unleash tremendous violence. As the preliterate confronts the literate in the postliterate arena, as new information patterns inundate and uproot the old, mental breakdowns of varying degrees--including the collective nervous breakdowns of whole societies unable to resolve their crises of identity--will become very common."
As domestic protests grow over the failure of globalist economic policies within the same western countries that seek to impose their will on Afghanistan, the time may have come to accept that whatever the outcome of the latest effort to make "peace" with the Taliban, it will not succeed until the Afghan people are allowed to make their own choices through a system of their own choosing and not someone else's.
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of Invisible History, Afghanistan's Untold Story published by City Lights. Their next book Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire will be published February, 2011. Visit their website at invisiblehistory.com Copyright © 2010 Gould & Fitzgerald All rights reserved