I don’t claim to have deep knowledge about Afghanistan, but it seems to him that the current US approach is destined for failure. Over the past year violence has gotten worse and the US continues to lose soldiers and waste money there. But here’s my question: Why is it important that we destroy the Taliban? Why is the Taliban being treated as an inevitable enemy that has to be eliminated in order for security to be achieved?
Afghanistan becomes a security threat to the US and its allies when it serves as a sanctuary for Al-Qaeda types to use as a base to plan and launch attacks against the US. For what other reason is Afghanistan important to the US? The situation that existed in Afghanistan before 9/11 was clearly a security threat to the US as Al-Qaeda could do whatever they wanted, and as we well know, they did just that. But why is the Taliban being lumped together with Al-Qaeda as an implaccable enemy that must be destroyed?
The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are not natural allies. Al-Qaeda are Arabs from a far away land, who speak a different language and are seen by the locals as being arrogant and having a sense of superiority. Although there is a shared religion, Islam, in some ways, Afghani Arabs are seen by the locals as foreign occupiers just as much as the Americans. In the mid-late 1990s, Mullah Omar made a calculated decision that the money and material equipment that Bin Laden could supply made it worth the political and diplomatic costs that such a decision would cost. Keep in mind, since the US was barely intersted in Al-Qaeda or Afghanistan at this point the price was very low. But even at this pre-9/11 point, Omar seems to have had some doubts about the wisdom of such a decision. According to Lawrence_Wright, Mullah Omar made a verbal commitment to Prince Turki Al-Faisal to turn Bin Laden over to Saudi Arabia, which he later reneged on but this shows how this was an alliance of convenience. Clearly, after 9/11 the Taliban had to be thinking the cost-benefit equation. With the US suddenly attacking Afghanistan it became alot more costly. And the Taliban’s leaders know this.
The Taliban is a local movement which is stricly limited to Afghanistan whereas Al-Qaeda is a global movement. Their interests clearly conflict. Furthermore, there is a strong sense, both within the Taliban and within various Islamist movements, that the Taliban had founded the first modern truly Islamic state, but all of these gains were wiped out by Bin Laden’s recklessness. Al-Qaeda’s attacks on the US, especially 9/11, are considered strategically idiotic by many within the Islamists movements. If given a second chance in Afghanistan, they would certainly be more careful about who they let into their country. And from a counter-terrorism perspective, the Taliban’s fighters are local, uneducated tribesman who know little if anything about what goes on outside their borders. Most could probaly not locate Afghanistan on a map. They have neither the language skills or worldliness to make it past Kabul airport. I am not aware of one member of the Taliban or even an Afghani who has ever participated in a terrorist attack against the US.
And does their political program for Afghanistan necessarily conflict with US interests? If the Taliban wants to run an 8th century theocracy, why does the US care, as long as they don’t also allow Al-Qaeda types to enter their country? Certainly they are probaly a better bet to keep the country stable than the US-trained Afghan army. I see no reason why some kind of unwritten understanding can be reached between the US and the Taliban: We’ll leave you to govern Afghanistan as you wish, as long as you do everything possible to keep all Arab Al-Qaeda types out. Oh and the second we find that you’re not doing that, we’ll attack. Sure, this is an unlikely plan because it would mean selling out the pro-US Afghan government. But is that such a bad thing? Are we going to keep spending billions of dollars and have hundreds of soldiers die to fight against an enemy that doesn’t necessarily have to be our enemy? Or are we going to adopt a better, albeit hard-core realist plan, that perhaps better takes into account local realities?