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A One Trick Pony
Posted by Newshoggers.com on October 24th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Andrew Exum, known as Abu Muqawama, is a fellow at the neoliberal, interventionist mothership – the Center for a new American Security. As such, he's a fairly influential voice within the D.C. "serious people" foreign policy set. So you'd think he could do better than his summary of the state of play over possible negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan for Foreign Policy.

Exum gets the main mover-and-shaker right in his piece (all bold emphasis is mine):

The reality, though, is that negotiations between the insurgent groups and the government in Kabul will only go so far as the Pakistani security services allow. Some Western analysts took heart in Pakistan's decision in February to arrest Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. At the time, however, the arrest of Mullah Baradar, who was in negotiations with the government in Kabul, was interpreted by the Taliban rank and file to be a stark warning to those who would negotiate without the permission of the Pakistani government, under whose patronage and protection the Taliban has operated east of the Durand Line since 2005. Today it is widely accepted that this was indeed the case and that Pakistan deliberately thwarted negotiations between the Quetta Shura Taliban and the government in Kabul to serve its own parochial interests. Since that event, there is no sign that Pakistan's powerful military has taken a softer line on negotiations between the Taliban and the government in Kabul.

But his prescription for future action completely ignores that reality:

Afghans are perfectly comfortable talking while still fighting. So too, at least in practice, are the United States and its allies: In insurgencies from Vietnam to Northern Ireland, we have negotiated with insurgents while combat operations were ongoing. In the American public's mind, however, wars take place sequentially: First, you fight; second, you negotiate a settlement. The word "negotiations" conjures up hopes for an end to the conflict in the minds of Americans and other Westerners — when all that really might be occurring is another round of jockeying for position between Afghanistan's warring political forces.

My question, simply stated, is:  if neither fighting nor talking to the Taliban will work unless the Pakistani intelligence agency allow them to – and there's no signs at all that it will - then why are we wasting billions of dollars and thousands of lives doing both?

As a justification for our continued military presence and perpetration of organised violence in a foreign nation, "a better negotiating position" is very weak tea given the underlying reality. So weak as to have no sense at all. Exum stands surrogate here for all the D.C. Beltway insiders who have always had a massive military hammer to hand and cannot think of any alternatives to using it. That's been true since the very beginnings of the intervention in Afghanistan, when the Bush administration had a clear alternate option – the Pakistani government made it clear it could preserve its own interests and America's both at once and convince the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden and his senior leadership. Bush didn't even consider it. Thus we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place.

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