Thursday, June 16

For six years Amrullah Saleh was in the best position to understand the Taliban. It's time NATO began listening to his advice about dealing with them.

This is an example of U.S. sending mixed signals to Pakistan

Many Afghans believe that to get to a negotiated settlement, the Taliban leaders involved in talks should be relocated to Afghanistan from their current locations in Pakistan, where they are protected by Pakistan’s intelligence service.
-- Amrullah Saleh

Today Bloomberg news service has published an op-ed by Amrullah Saleh, which I republish in full below. But before turning over the floor to Saleh, I want to dispute a part of his advice that pertains to dealing with Pakistan. I think Pakistan's military and civilian leaders read the "carrot and stick" approach he advocates as deliberately mixed signals, which convey acceptance for their continued prosecution of what is in effect a proxy war in Afghanistan; this on the theory that the USA finds Pakistan so valuable as a client state/strategic asset it will tolerate its aggression toward Afghanistan and even NATO troops.

In other words, what NATO leaders consider inducements (carrots) the Pakistanis read as tacit acceptance of their course of action no matter how much NATO says it dislikes the course. This situation is mirrored in the way substance abusers read continued material support from family members as sympathy for their predicament, no matter how much the family members yell and scream at them to give up dope, and no matter how many times they threaten to throw the addict out of the house or turn him into the police.

Western psychologists have a term for that kind of family member: enabler; i.e., someone who enables a person who can't on his own continue a self-destructive course of action.

Psychologists know that often the greatest obstacle to an addict confronting his dire predicament is the enabler in his life, which can be a lover or friend or even employer in addition to family members. No matter the type of relationship, the enabler always provides just enough support -- material and/or emotional -- to allow the addict to continue his self-destructive behavior with the sense that he's able to manage the addiction.

I read the very same situation in the NATO-Pakistan relationship, and in particular the British and U.S. government's relations with Pakistan's government. This is an old story that goes back to Pakistan's inception and it's created a very sick, very toxic relationship that Western psychology terms co-dependent; i.e., a need developed on both sides for a relationship that's destructive to both parties, and often those nearest them as well.

However, the difference between a co-dependent relationship between individuals and between governments is that the latter can lead to the most horrific situations involving many thousands or even millions of people. And thus, the way the Afghan War has been prosecuted by ISAF since Operation Airlift of Evil, which set the course for the rest of the war and led to a situation whereby NATO and in particular the USA is in effect paying Pakistan's military to help murder NATO troops.

But when called out on this atrocity, U.S./NATO government officials engage in rationalizations that are textbook examples of the kind of excuses that enablers deploy to rationalize their continued support for a substance abuser! Textbook. Here are the top four excuses with the U.S. variation in parentheses:

If I stop helping him:

> He'll die (Pakistan will collapse)
> He'll kill himself (Pakistan will be overrun by extremists)
> He'll turn to crime (Pakistan will start a nuclear war)
> It will break up the family (Pakistan won't give any help to NATO)

Indeed, the rationalizations voiced by NATO officials are so similar to those used by enablers that I've often wondered if the war could have been successfully concluded years ago, if psychologists who specialize in helping families stop being enablers had been brought in by CENTCOM to analyze the relationships between officials in major NATO governments and their counterparts in Pakistan's government.

Well, I've discussed this angle several times over the years on this blog, and once I went to some trouble to detail how it's possible to stop the enabling without breaking off the relationship. (See Stay out of the bazaar.) So I'll end here, with a final observation that I like Saleh's method of dealing with the Taliban because it helps distinguish those Talibs who are genuine insurgents from ones being used as proxies by Pakistan's military.

June 16, 2011, Bloomberg:
Afghan Role for Taliban, if They Play by Rules
By Amrullah Saleh

As the U.S. prepares to reduce its troop presence in Afghanistan next month, Afghans are seriously considering what will come next for our country. As Hamid Karzai’s government steers reconciliation talks with the Taliban aimed at creating enough quiet for the Americans and the rest of NATO to justify departing, Afghans like me increasingly worry that we will wind up in a situation worse than the civil war of past years.

This is avoidable. The opposition to Karzai isn’t just a rejection of the current government, as the media have emphasized. We provide an alternative vision to Karzai’s way out of the status quo. It entails a complete disarming of the Taliban, an end to Pakistan’s practice of giving sanctuary to Taliban militants and a truth-and-reconciliation process for Afghanistan.

As things are going, the future looks grim.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization expects that a negotiated settlement, eventually, will end the fighting between Afghan government forces, on one side, and the Taliban and its allies on the other. Before extending an olive branch to the Taliban leadership, however, NATO is pursuing a military strategy to weaken the enemy. This involves brilliant special operations inside Afghanistan that have killed perhaps many hundreds of Taliban mid-level commanders. The idea is to break the leadership of the Taliban in order to get the group’s second and third tier to come in from the cold. Whether this plan works will depend on whether NATO succeeds in pressuring Pakistan, which supports the Taliban, to go along. Insurgencies don’t end when they are given sanctuary in a neighboring country.

Taliban Wants Arms

But the Pakistan-Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance wants a deal that would allow the Taliban to remain armed and mobilized so that it could again have the capacity to dominate Afghanistan, as both a political and military force.

In such a scenario, real political competition in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban is strongest, would be either difficult or impossible. The Taliban would gain access to major funds through illegal taxation, narcotics trafficking, extortion, the sale of natural resources and the black market. These funds would enable them to sustain their organization and provide some services to their constituents. Pakistan would feel safe having its proxy control the border areas, limiting or blocking India’s access, and would use its influence with the Taliban to gain maximum concessions from the government in Kabul.

Abuse of Power

That government, today, is a conglomerate of small and big interest groups surviving through manipulation, abuse of power and criminal commerce. Its overt outreach wing for the reconciliation talks is the so-called High Peace Council. The council is largely a platform to keep the big names within the Karzai government under one tent and to give the outreach an artificial multi-ethnic face.

The council’s chief spokesman is Karzai, who has caused deep division within Afghan society by his constant, unconditional offer of alliance to the Taliban. For those who have fought for a vision of a pluralistic Afghanistan, a Karzai-Taliban alliance is a recipe for disaster. The Taliban’s return to positions of authority would raise the horrific specter of their previous time in power.

It is for fear of that outcome that voices for justice and permanent peace have been raised in Afghanistan. Many Afghans believe that to get to a negotiated settlement, the Taliban leaders involved in talks should be relocated to Afghanistan from their current locations in Pakistan, where they are protected by Pakistan’s intelligence service.

Monopoly of Force

In any agreement, the Taliban must be disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated into society. The Taliban should be allowed to become a political force and be given every chance to play according to the script of democracy. But the Afghan state alone must have a monopoly on force. It isn’t permissible to allow the Taliban to become a Hezbollah-type entity within Afghanistan -- an armed state within a state. If they agree to just a cease-fire with Karzai or his replacement, it will only bring a deceptive stability that will prove short-lived.

Many years of war have wounded the psyche of the Afghan nation. Burying the facts will not help us heal those wounds. An internationally funded truth-finding commission should investigate human-rights violations, massacres and major crimes of the past 20 years. Knowing the facts would help the Afghan people reconcile with themselves. A full report may take years to compile, but the process would create hope.

In this scenario, Pakistan must stop its support of the Taliban. The U.S., which supplied Pakistan with $4.5 billion in economic and security aid last fiscal year, would need to offer carrots and sticks to ensure that country’s compliance. Pakistan and Afghanistan would sign an agreement guaranteeing the cessation of interference in each other’s affairs, both directly and indirectly.

This is the way out for Afghanistan, the Taliban, Pakistan, as well as U.S. and other NATO forces. A settlement that falls short of these minimums will only prolong Afghanistan’s agony.

(Amrullah Saleh was the head of the National Directorate of Security in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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