Thursday, July 30, 2009

They Finally Get It
According to an Al-Jazeera article (yes, I choose Al-Jazeera over CNN. If nothing else, it reports on things I am more interested in. But more importantly, it reports with a degree of responsibility), the Taliban have issued a book detailing the new code of conduct for fighters. It demands a decrease in suicide attacks, less civilian deaths in operations, and to attempt to win the "hearts and minds" of the populace.

We're fucked.

I say that only in jest. On the surface, it might seem like the American military/NATO/ just the Amercian military is going to have a tougher time in the future because they are no longer the only group preaching peace. But, I see a glimmer of hope. Here's why.

When presented with the choice between siding with the Americans (in theory: rebuilding infrastructure, building schools, security in the cities, etc.) or the Taliban (forced poppy cultivation, Sharia law, and recruitment and near brain-washing of the youth), I would think that a rational Afghan-- barring direct intimidation-- would choose the Americans. But now with this new proclamation, the choice isn't so clear cut. The Taliban are looking to popularize their vision. They are campaigning. They want to be a viable and attractive alternative to the American model. (This is assuming that this whole thing is legitimate unto itself, and that the Taliban will actually adhere to this new book, and wouldn't be so stupid as to issue this and then continue acting violently towards civilians.) With this new book, they are fighting smarter, not harder, because hard fighting only increases civilian resentment and American retaliation.

However, think about this: What if the Taliban have begun secret negotiations with the US (probably through a Pakistani middle-man, but that's fine) to moderate their views and enter the legitimate political arena?
Mullah Omar could not openly announce his intention to moderate and could never even hint that he was talking to the Americans. To do so would kill his movement and entire organization. It removes the sense of "them" and "us", or "good" and "evil", from a Taliban perspective. But, he could do so in secret. He could see the direction his movement is heading (more on this in a bit) and basically do a policy review. Now, I am not saying that the Taliban will abandon their views and try to emulate Hamas successful entry into mainstream politics. They won't abandon their pursuit of the imposition of Sharia law. But they might. I think they'll find a way to "legitimate" their entry into politics. What better way to start this process than to start talking to the occupying power? And I bet that the American military said, "only if you agree to these terms can we continue this dialogue." The new book is the fruit of these discussions.

The Al-Jazeera article goes on to say that Omar wants to centralize the movement. Duh! Right now, the Taliban is a fractured movement, with many fighters only labelling themselves "Taliban" for promotional purposes, while not adhering to the original doctrine of Mullah Omar. If he asserts his control and brings the disparate groups together, he can steer their direction more easily. The US, if they worked with him, would encourage this. It's better to have one powerful man to deal with and convince than to have hundreds of sub-commanders to deal with, who switch sides at the drop of a coin (literally). The saying goes "You can't buy loyalty in Afghanistan; you can only rent it."

Further in the article:
"Whenever any official, soldier, contractor or worker of the slave government is captured, these prisoners cannot be attacked or harmed," it says.
Yep. That sounds pretty American to me. I bet we added that part. Let's keep going:

"The book further states that if a "military infidel" is captured, the decision on whether to kill, release or exchange the hostage is only to be made by the Imam, a reference to Mullah Omar, or deputy Imam."
We get our boys back. That sounds good to me.

I can't say that this whole manifesto is a bad thing. It's great for the Afghan public's safety. It's maybe not so great from an American perspective in the NATO vs. Taliban war, but we are, theoretically, trying to help Afghans. Therefore, my conclusion is that a moderating and more controlled Taliban who have someone to answer to (Mullah Omar) is better than a suicide bombing and uncontrolled Taliban who pursue individual goals decided upon by a regional commander.

And the theory that we are negotiating with Mullah Omar has credence because, let's face it, the Taliban have lost ground in Afghanistan recently, and with Obama's push in the region, they're not going to be in power any time soon. Why not moderate and get a degree of power? It's pure Realpolitick. Instead of no power, have some. The Pakistanti government finally woke up and started pushing the Taliban back in the north west. By my limited geographic knowledge, that means the Taliban are being squeezed between two pincers. Add that Russia and the US are on better terms, and Russia is allowing the US to transport military hardware to Afghanistan through its borders, and Mullah Omar must recognize that the Taliban's future is bleak indeed. He should take what he can get, and if that means dealing with the Americans, well, it might just make for a happier and safer Afghanistan. I think we can all look forward to that.

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