Dialogue with the Taleban for stability in Afghanistan!
NATO forces in Afghanistan are expected to provide personal security to people from the Talebans but mistakes after mistakes by Nato forces may have killed many thousand innocent civilians.
The September 4th strike on two hijacked petrol tankers in the Kunduz province by Nato plane killed 90 including civilians and the Afghanistan government reacted angrily to such flawed attacks. The German commander was in charge of the unit which struck the petrol tanks.
It was reported that 250 villagers had been near the tankers to get free petrol. And "helping yourself to the spoils" from the hijacked military convoys was nothing new and Nato forces should have known it. Some have asked for a trial of the German commander for killing civilians.
It is reported that Nato has been investgating the incident because the top military commander ordered the Nato forces not to hit the civilians.
Almost every day some Talebans are being killed on the border areas by the CIA Predator drone aircraft. Although such attacks have killed many Taleban stalwarts including its former leader Baitullah Mehsud, they may prove to be counterproductive in the long run as the aerial attacks have made it much more difficult for Pakistan government leaders to isolate the extremists and militants from the tribal population.
Meanwhile, on 31 August, the top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who heads more than 100,000 Nato soldiers, called for a complete revamp of military strategy in the country in a sweeping review of operations that acknowledges the disastrous approach of the last eight years and may pave the way for a demand for more troops.
The revised strategy, in the face of the Taliban's expanding influence and waning support for the Kabul government, changes the emphasis from engaging directly with militants to winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan population, officials in Washington and Nato headquarters said.
The US has 63,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, with another 5,000 on the way. It is also reported that US may send additional 15,000 soldiers. Anthony Cordesman, a Washington-based strategist who has been an adviser to McChrystal, said recently in the Washington Post that the US deployment would need about three to eight more brigades, which would mean anything from 7,000 to 40,000 more troops.
President Obama has made Afghanistan the cornerstone of his foreign policy at a time when polls in the US suggest out of 10 Americans, 6 are opposed to war in Afghanistan. In light of the background, sending more troops would be politically difficult for President Obama.
Along with the performance of Nato forces in Afghanistan, continuing involvement by Nato forces has been very unpopular in many Nato countries and some have suggested that Nato should have an exit strategy after two years.
Furthermore, US officials and advisers involved with Afghanistan see little salvation in the recent presidential election, especially with questions raised about its legitimacy. It was thought that the August 20 presidential election would provide security by shoring up an elected government in the ethnically divided nation but evidence of vote rigging has overshadowed the ballot and divided the country.
Security has deteriorated to the point that a growing chorus of Western diplomats, Nato commanders and Afghans has begun to argue that the insurgency cannot be defeated solely by military means. Some officials in Kabul contend that the war against the insurgents cannot be won and are calling for negotiations with moderate Talebans.
Western diplomats said. "It is part of a political effort that needs to be made inside and outside the country to ensure that the military effort is complemented in the right ways."
Important parts of the strategy would be to exploit what diplomats here say are fissures in the Taliban, to separate what amounts to day-wage fighters from the movement's hard-core elements, whom many officials consider to be "irreconcilable," and to separate the Taliban from Al Qaeda.
If moderate Talebans can be persuaded to lay down their arms against a position in the administration, violence is likely to decrease.
Behind the scenes, it is reported that there has also been quiet work of influential Muslim clerics and international leaders in an attempt to draw the Taliban away from Al Qaeda and to bring peace to Afghanistan, according to an Afghan military attaché working on the plan.
Observers believe neither Nato nor the insurgents could win the war outright, and predict that fighting could continue for 10 more years at the cost of some 100,000 casualties.
For the Obama administration the strategy to open dialogue with the moderate Talebans is not a bad idea. Senior White House officials and military leaders believe that engagement with some levels of the Taleban - while excluding top leaders - could help reverse a pronounced downward spiral in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan.
Furthermore, Pakistan government leaders have found that they cannot pursue vigorously against the Taleban in the tribal areas because people think that it is a war imposed on Pakistan by the Americans.
Analysts say that two main issues stand between the sides: the presence of foreign forces and the system of government in the country.
Afghans from all sides, all ethnicities, including all the Mujahedeen groups, should come together to work it out. Furthermore, if the moderate Talebans make the withdrawal of Nato forces as a condition for a peace dialogue, it could be a dead end because the Obama administration is not likely to agree to it.
It has been often argued that war cannot fight an ideology. It rather acts as fuel to the militants as petrol does to fire. If the soldiers interact with the Afghans in a way which gives confidence to the Afghans that security forces are their partners, then success may be achieved.
Education and socio-economic development must go hand-in-hand. When ordinary people have employment and economic prosperity, they move away from extremism because it does not interest them anymore.
The author is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.