President Hamid Karzai's demand that the U.S. bring the Taliban to the negotiating table before he would sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with Washington is self-serving and impracticable. Washington's insistence that the Taliban conclude a peace agreement with Kabul within the framework of Afghanistan's present constitution and political structure is equally unrealistic and is based more on Karzai's prodding than being an American strategic policy.
Mr. Karzai, himself a former Taliban member, should know better. The Taliban would not accept a deal with any Afghan government under the country's present political structure. Nor will the Taliban sit down at a table to talk peace with him.
As far as Karzai is concerned, the chickens have come home to roost. His policies of lawlessness, his toleration of and possible participation in corruption, and his complete neglect of the Afghan people's wellbeing have made his survival, in or out of office, virtually impossible without the protection of the international forces. The fear of losing the protective umbrella of foreign troops has destabilized his mind, rendering his behavior erratic, if not schizophrenic.
The only thing his mind is clear about is that the insurgency is rising and will topple his or any successor government. The frenzy with which he is trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table is to please the Taliban in the vain hope that it would forgive his betrayal of his former comrades. And his last-minute refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States is another futile attempt to gratify the Taliban which opposes the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, Washington is not without fault at having arrived at this hopeless situation. Over the past twelve years, Washington has gratuitously assented to whatever Karzai did and demanded. American officials' lack of understanding of Afghan conditions and their imperial disregard of the needs and hopes of average Afghans have brought Afghanistan to the edge of another civil war and has, as a result, limited America's options to two choices--none of which had been America's goal when it invaded Afghanistan. And they are: First, leaving the battlefield to the Afghans to fight it out among themselves and letting the chips fall where they may. Second, initiating direct negotiations with the Taliban without the participation of the Karzai government.
The first option would be a continuation of U.S. policy of the mid-1990s, when Washington turned its back on Afghanistan and left that broken and impoverished country to its own devices. Washington now knows it was a mistake and has variously assured it would not repeat it.
That leaves the U.S. with the second option.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan and abolished Taliban rule in 2001, when the Taliban refused to surrender Osama bin Laden. However since, the Taliban has been on the rise and is gaining ground. It is irrational to presume that it would accept peace on Karzai's conditions.
The Taliban believes it is fighting for God. However, it does not feel under any time pressure doing so. It trusts that God will choose the moment when it will emerge victoriously.
Yet, America's present financial austerity and the American people's opposition to this war forces President Obama to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan--with or without the "zero option." And in order to avoid Afghanistan's falling back into civil war, the only possibility is to begin direct negotiations with the Taliban.
Giving the Taliban the security that America is not out to destroy it would allow Washington to remain engaged in post-Karzai Afghanistan and open a window of opportunity to work with the Taliban in an attempt to help it soften its fundamentalist views and to evolve into a peaceful member of the international community.
March 18, 2014
Nasir Shansab is a former leading Afghan industrialist and is the son of Afghanistan's once Minister of Agriculture. Forced to leave his country in 1975, Nasir now lives in Washington DC and holds dual U.S. and Afghan citizenship. He is the author of "Silent Trees: A Novel of Afghanistan", a new novel set in Afghanistan prior to Soviet invasion. Nasir has most recently appeared on Bloomberg TV, Voice of America, Global Television Canada, Voice of Russia, "America's Radio News" (TRN), Jim Bohannon, "America Tonight" with Kate Delaney, The Rich Zeoli Show on WPHT Philadelphia, KXL Portland, in 'The Hill', and on several other outlets.