Conference on Afghanistan: how much to buy off the Taliban?
On January 28, London will play host to a conference on Afghanistan, where representatives will try to organize an approach and funding for ensuring security in the Islamic Republic, integrating it into global civilized life, and integrating the Taliban into peaceful life in that country.
These goals are incredibly complicated and equally difficult to achieve. Afghanistan's security cannot be guaranteed without the Taliban's participation (the bulk of the political movement are ethnic Pushtuns, who make up 45% of the Afghan population), but it would be easier to start a new Afghan war than to integrate the Taliban into peaceful life in Afghanistan under the current U.S. strategy and the Hamid Karzai government.
So many unpleasant events took place in the run-up to the conference that it is now easy to predict its outcome. First it was announced that the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan would be postponed from May till September. After President Karzai's fraudulent elections last year, the parliamentary elections would be the final blow to what's left of his authority, which is limited to Kabul anyway. As a result, the United Nations froze its more than $50 million worth of aid to Kabul to carry out the elections.
Moreover, the day before the conference the New York Times published a cable by Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, who warned his superiors that Afghan President Hamid Karzai "is not an adequate strategic partner."
Mr. Eikenberry repeatedly cautioned that deploying sizable American reinforcements would only deepen the dependence of the Afghan government on the United States. The British press also published a regular report from U.S. military intelligence on the Taliban's growing horizontal and vertical influence.
Finally, Afghanistan's donors rejected the plan for combating corruption that President Karzai set forth only a week ago. An American expert on Afghanistan said that Mr. Karzai's cabinet is now even more corrupt than before the elections, which is why the Afghan parliament refused to endorse Mr. Karzai's cabinet (11 out of 17 ministers' positions are still vacant). Now the Afghan president will have to set forth a five-year plan for reorganizing and reintegrating Afghanistan at the forthcoming conference. Ouch...
Incidentally, the most realistic and specific proposal at the forum came from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, when Moscow offered to restore all the industrial and economic facilities that it had built in Afghanistan long ago. The West would have to pay for this effort, since these facilities were destroyed by the weapons it supplied to Afghanistan, in particular, to the Taliban.
In general, the outcome of such conferences is easy to predict. They start with banquets (Prince Charles hosted the banquet leading up to this conference on January 27), are followed by speeches and communiques, and eventually put off the problem until a new crisis.
The conference will be attended by 77 governments, including all 43 members of the Afghan military expedition and all of Afghanistan's neighbors. It would seem that the choice of venue should facilitate success. After all, London's Lancaster House (where the Foreign Office now holds receptions and international conferences) has witnessed many settlements, primarily the agreements granting independence to Nigeria, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and Kenya.
Participants in the conference could learn from the British. They waged three wars in Afghanistan from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, defeated the Afghans in the latter two wars, but then realized that defeat did not mean they could control these tribes. As a result, they left Afghanistan, which became independent in 1919.
Some participants are bound to attempt to bring up this British experience at the conference, at which there has already been a proposal to remove the names of a number of prominent Afghan politicians, who were either previously in the Taliban or actively opposed the regime, from the UN blacklist. It is clear that the goal of this proposal is to encourage them to take part in the settlement talks and thus bring other Taliban leaders into the reconciliation process. The UN first blacklisted these politicians for their alleged links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban immediately after 9/11, in New York in 2001. They were declared outside the law and their foreign bank accounts frozen.
Needless to say, nobody is going to remove al-Qaeda's die-hard terrorists from list, but its revision would be beneficial - pardon for the mistakes of the past is an invitation to talks and an incentive for others.
This would be good if all those "pardoned" have not already been cooperating with the Kabul regime for many years. Former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Mutavakil has lived in Kabul for four years now. Former Deputy Planning Minister Musa Hotak has been an MP and chairman of the Security Committee since 2007. Former Minister of Border Guards Abdul Hakim left the Taliban three years ago and is now the governor of the Uruzgan Province.
As for the Taliban's reintegration into Afghan life, it amounts to funds for retraining the converts and providing them with housing and jobs. This is a euphemism for buying off the Taliban. When it comes to money, the East is no longer a "tricky matter" but instead a mercantile one. It is easier to buy loyalty in the East than to win it, but for how long?
Moreover, the price tag for the loyalty of the former Taliban is a meager $500 million. This money will go to an integration fund. One of the world's biggest charities, British Oxfam, has calculated that one American soldier in Afghanistan costs $1 million per year. During the entire seven years of Afghanistan's occupation, the country has received a mere $93 per capita for its economic development.
Does this mean that money is the solution and Mr. Karzai the main headache? But few will dare say: "Remove Karzai and Afghanistan will quickly recover." And who would succeed him now? British Secretary of State David Miliband has said that the alternative to this "very, very difficult project" - Mr. Karzai and his cabinet -- is even worse. Speaking strictly, nobody has seriously looked for an alternative, but Mr Miliband's words recall Franklin Roosevelt's blunt words about one Nicaraguan dictator: "Somoza may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he's our son-of-a-bitch."
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political correspondent Andrei Fedyashin)
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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