The End of the Afghanistan War?

Jayel Aheram
Dec 19, 2011 at 12:18 PM

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Reuters has an exclusive about the Obama administration's efforts in Afghanistan:

After 10 months of secret dialogue with Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents, senior U.S. officials say the talks have reached a critical juncture and they will soon know whether a breakthrough is possible, leading to peace talks whose ultimate goal is to end the Afghan war.

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It has asked representatives of the Taliban to match that confidence-building measure with some of their own. Those could include a denunciation of international terrorism and a public willingness to enter formal political talks with the government headed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

If these diplomatic efforts prove to be fruitful, it would go a long way in ushering the end of the United States' longest war. In the meantime, the plan is for the military to stay indefinitely according to this report from USA Today:

Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban and other forces in the region need to know the U.S. military will make sure the Afghans can handle the job.

"If you been waiting for us to go, we're not leaving," he said.

NATO forces agreed last year to set a deadline of the end of 2014 for turning over security to Afghan forces and ending combat operations.

The troubling thing about this approach is that it ignores the peril of our continued involvement there. The United States' quest for stability in Afghanistan would require re-empowering the Taliban, the very organization it just spent 10 years attempting to dismantle. Any agreement with the Taliban, or its elusive leader Mullah Omar, would potentially enable that organization access to the billions of dollars of foreign aid that President Hamid Karzai's notoriously corrupt government would be receiving as well open doors for possible power-sharing arrangement with the Afghan central government.

Access to these funds (along with the millions of bribes they are already receiving, according to the Daily Mail) would potentially bring about the re-emergence of a politically and structurally significant Taliban. The political implication of this diplomatic effort notwithstanding (just imagine the outrage from neo-conservatives and families of dead soldiers this "capitulation" will generate), is it realistic to expect the various tribal groups already hostile to the central government to accept this new agreement?

It is well-known that Karzai lacks credibility as he seen as "weak" and "corrupt" by his own people; a charge that is not necessarily untrue according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. It remains to be seen if Karzai can amass the clout necessary to unite the country without the stabilizing influence of a foreign military occupation. Any reconciliation effort might require Karzai to step away from the top position, but his intention to cling to power after a U.S. withdrawal would likely hinder talks. Who is to say that the United States and NATO's plan to train nearly 400,000 police and soldiers under the command of Karzai's government, or the billions of dollars of aid Afghanistan will be receiving, or a potentially more powerful central government would not serve as incentives for him to stay?

But the real barrier to peace in Afghanistan is not Karzai, or the Taliban, or even key regional player Pakistan, but the United States government itself. No amount of self-governance will legitimize the Afghan government in the eyes of its people if the United States continues to spend money propping up Karzai's corrupt regime. Furthermore, it is a given that the Obama administration will force Afghanistan to adopt a government that will be acceptable to the United States and its allies; an action that would, rightly or wrongly, give credence to the charge that the United States intends a puppet government in Afghanistan.

Regardless what happens to the peace talks, there is that unavoidable reality that innocent Afghan civilians will continue to suffer death and destruction under American bombs as the United States unceasingly wages its futile war on terror in the Middle East.