28 January 2010

Everyone agrees with Taliban Jack now

Late in 2006,  New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton suggested that talking to the Taliban was important in bringing peace to Afghanistan. He was excoriated in the daily press and treated with contempt by both Conservatives and Liberals. They called him Taliban Jack and laughed him out of the House.

Well, Taliban Jack is laughing now. It seems that almost everyone agrees that talking to the "scumbags" is the only way to peace in that tortured country. That Pakistan is talking to "all levels" of the insurgency is hardly a surprise. But Afghan President Hamid Karzi is also interested in discourse with the more moderate elements. Most surprisingly, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Forces and the American forces in Afghanistan, agrees with talks. “As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there’s been enough fighting,” McChrystal told the Financial Times. “What I think we do is try to shape conditions which allow people to come to a truly equitable solution to how the Afghan people are governed.” U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates concurs that the Taliban are a part of Afghanistan’s “political fabric.”

Canada's position, too, has evolved over the past four years. Having once ridiculed Layton's position, in 2008 the Conservatives said they would support talks with those Taliban who renounced violence. Now talks with the insurgents is one of the official priorities of the Canadian mission.

The Taliban are a bunch of brutal theocrats but, like the murderous IRA in Ireland, they have a lot of support among their people. They are the dominant force among Pashtuns in the south, where Canadian troops operate. Taliban leader Mullah Omar remains perhaps the foremost spokesman for Pashtun interests. Just as dealing with reality in Ireland meant dealing with the IRA, so dealing with reality in Afghanistan may mean dealing with the Taliban. NATO's special civilian representative in Afghanistan, former British ambassador to Kabul Mark Sedwill, appears ready to deal with that reality, recently stating "If we are going to bring conflicts like Afghanistan to an end … that means some pretty unsavoury characters are going to have to be brought within the system. Because if you don't bring them within the system in some way … you risk whatever fragile peace you build falling apart." Sedwill said further that refusing to deal with the Taliban because of their past behaviour is hypocritical when there are warlords responsible for appalling abuses on the government side.

Bringing the Taliban into a government would be unpleasant, but we are on good terms with the oppressive, misogynistic Sauds in Arabia, a regime that recently sentenced a 75-year old woman to 40 lashes and four months in prison for having two unrelated men in her house, so we can hold our noses and live with similar religious thuggery in Afghanistan.


  1. Bill, odious as the Taliban may be, the warlord structure we allowed to remain in their wake is hardly better. I think it's highly unlikely they're going to talk with us in any case. Insurgencies don't tend to negotiate when they have the upper hand. We've spent eight years babysitting an unresolved civil war and we have nothing but dead to show for it.

    You might find Seumas Milne's take on it interesting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/27/only-pressure-withdraw-stop-blood-price

  2. How many Canadian and American lives, as well as money, for which we all will be paying for years, have been spent fighting the Taliban instead of negotiating with them?

    Of all the political leaders-parties, Taliban Jack and the NDP were the only ones who were most correct about the Afghan war (maybe BQ as well?). Harper also labeled Dion and the Lib party as Taliban lovers-supporters.

    The Taliban fought against members of the Northern Alliance (Uzbeks, Tajiks) which supported the Soviet invaders over a span of 10 years. The Taliban (sons of Afghan freedom fighters) arose partly to protect their own women and children from being murdered,raped and brutalized and partly to defend their own way of life. They were apparently financially supported by the Americans until shortly before Sep. 11 when the U.S. withdrew financial support over lost pipeline rights.

    Canadians are basically supporting a bunch of warlords and druglords (Northern Alliance) with established blood feud with the Taliban. For Canada to pass over its detainees to the NDS guys (associated with the N. Alliance) without close monitoring shows either a complete lack of common sense or a disregard for humane treatement of the detainees according to Geneva convention.

    Hillier and Harper most probably did not want Canadians to know the details as the latter would likely oppose (as they do now) the involvement in Afghanistan.