Taliban Dialogue: What is all the talk about?

I wonder if it throws up too many images of compromise, but for some, talking with the enemy is not an option even worth thinking about. Tory Rascal notes that his views on the war in Afghanistan are not popular, but efforts to turn locals against insurgents should be done regardless of popularity, and this can all be achieved without dialogue with the Taliban.

TR has it right that his view is not popular, 58% in a recent poll said that the Taliban could not be defeated militarily, and 52% of voters would support an immediate withdrawal. Certainly the argument that troops cannot be removed straight away, as this would undo all the hitherto hard work, is collapsing – just how long can this argument be defended? Indefinitely?

But as for dialogue, does this have any political punch of late?

Former British diplomat Charles Crawford writes off dialogue with the moderate Taleban as “containment”, which in US military is the position between “appeasement” (compromise through negotiation) and “rollback” (military force to destroy the enemy at its root), usually referred to when talking about US military strategy of carefully watching the expansion of the Soviet Union in the hope that this would relax its tendencies.

The parallel here is that talk with the Taleban would determine how it plans to expand its bases and thus, with patient strategy and examination, curb that expansion at the root.

But Crawford is scornful of this move. He views it as an impossibility of the “moderates” to include the extreme elements into the fixture. For him, this talk is cheap.

But talk in the age of Obama is different from the age of the Cold War or Vietnam (where “containment” was a dominant strategy). For the Obama administration dialogue is a requisite of victory. Such talk of talk was completely absent from the Bush era, there would be no communication with Cuba, North Korea or Iran, these were counterproductive. And it got the US nowhere. Obama can be seen making in-roads over discussions with China, questions have been raised on the touchy subject of a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel due to Obama’s engagement with leading authorities from both sides, and efforts to oversee Iran’s nuclear proliferation have not slowed down the process to determine how much is too much.

But on the last point comes the grey area. Attempts at dialogue in Iran haven’t stopped Ahmadinejad being an antagonist towards the US, but is this point enough to dissuade anybody that dialogue itself is a motive we should do away with? To be sure, the non-talk policy of Bush backfired.

What needs to be clarified is the motivation of dialogue. It should be reinforced that it is not a phase before giving in. In fact, quite the opposite, it’s stepping up the strategy so as to try and see these wars to their full closure.

Certainly what is appealing about US and UK moves to open dialogue is that it will shed light on feasible exit dates. Often in previous years the gap to understanding the realities of unpalatable forces in the Middle East was due to refusal of engagement with those willing to speak, not least promoting blind spots for intelligence, but reiterating the commonly held (and perhaps justifiably so) view that the US and UK were arrogant and unwilling to hear all sides (an image far away from the compassionate one with which we tried to justify the war on terror).

But hearing all sides is not a kop out – it serves foremost to understand the situation better. The war in Iraq was wrong, the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and open engagement, far from giving in, is a concerted attempt to see an end to these unjust conflicts – and soon.

This entry is in response to Charles Crawford’s article Should We Talk To The Taleban? as part of the Bloggers Circle experiment


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