Talking to the Taliban
Bill Roggio writes that despite the continued failure to reach "peace accords" with the Taliban, the Pakistani government continues to pursue a political settlement. Pakistan's interior minister has ordered the formation of a "peace jirga" to negotiate with Baitullah Mehsud, a man with close ties to al Qaeda, who boasted of killing Benazir Bhutto.
There is a body of opinion which holds that the key to peace in Afghanistan lies in returning the Taliban to a seat of power. Here's a summary of British efforts to implement this policy. Revealed: British plan to build training camp for Taliban fighters in Afghanistan - Asia, World - Independent.co.uk . Canoneer has an even more extensive review of the theory behind this.
There is probably some element of "making a virtue out of a necessity" in this preference for negotiations. The British are short on resources and the Germans have flatly refused to deploy their troops to southern Afghanistan. It may be the case that NATO simply cannot afford to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, let alone Pakistan. Hence, the refrain "let's make a deal" is bound to be heard not because its sound is sweet but because it is the only platter in the jukebox.
Matters have now come to a head. Condoleeza Rice and the British Foreign Minister are bound for Afghanistan, probably to figure out what to do next. Here's what VOA reports:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband have made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan's volatile Kandahar province, a former Taliban stronghold....
In London Wednesday, Rice said NATO forces are facing a "real test" in Afghanistan, and stressed that alliance members must share the burden of combat against the Taliban. Rice said NATO countries need to understand that the alliance is fighting an armed insurgency in Afghanistan and not simply participating in a peacekeeping mission.
NATO defense ministers are scheduled to meet this week in Lithuania. U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch troops have most of the NATO combat burden in the most perilous southern regions of Afghanistan. Canada has threatened to pull its troops from the country next year unless other allies send reinforcements.
My guess is that the Free Rider principle will prevail. Certain European publics will simply refuse to vote any more resources to the mission. That will force the balance of the coalition to carry more of the burden.