From Gideon Rachman, the Financial Times: Five years ago the Americans were refusing to speak to the Taliban. Now the Taliban are refusing to speak to the Americans. That is a measure of how the balance of power has shifted in Afghanistan. The western intervention there has failed. As Nato prepares to withdraw from the country in 2014, it is only the scale of the defeat that remains to be determined.
A senior Pakistani official comments sardonically: “I remember when the Americans used to say that the only good Taliban was a dead Taliban. Then they talked about separating the reconcilable from the irreconcilable. Now, they say, the Taliban are not our enemy.” In fact, Nato and Taliban forces are still enemies on the battlefield. But in a desperate effort to leave behind a stable Afghanistan, the US and its allies are also battling to include the Taliban in the political process. However, the Taliban are in no rush to negotiate – and recently broke off talks. With western troops on their way out, there is little pressure on them to compromise now. . . .
The reality, however, is that the killing of Osama bin Laden last year has given the US government all the “closure” it needs to justify a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nato’s goals for the country are now minimal and focused entirely on security: Afghanistan must never again provide a haven for terrorists – and the country must not become a “failed state”.
Even these minimal goals may not be achieved. The focus of Nato’s efforts has been training and equipping the Afghan security forces, so that they can take over from western troops. But funding the Afghan military costs $8bn-$9bn a year. Will the west continue to be willing to plough that sort of money into Afghanistan – with so many competing claims on funds? If not, as Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister put it at this weekend’s Brussels forum: “We will have given 100,000 people training and a gun, and then made them unemployed.”
Even if the Afghan military hangs together, Afghanistan is quite likely to descend into civil war. That, in turn, is likely to continue to further radicalise the Pakistani Taliban – because of the tribal, military and religious links on either side of the border. (graphic: Ingram Pinn/Financial Times)