Sunday, November 26, 2006

Why military victory in Afghanistan may be out of the question

Britain told: do peace deal with Taliban

Christina Lamb (The Times)

THE British will never win in Afghanistan by military means and should open negotiations with the Taliban, according to the former leader of Pakistan’s forces in the border areas.
On the eve of a Nato summit in Riga at which member nations will be urged to send more troops, Lieutenant-General Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai, who led Pakistan’s hunt for Al-Qaeda until 2004 and is now governor of North West Frontier province, said: “Bring 50,000 more troops and fight for 10 to 15 years more and you won’t resolve it. The British with their history in Afghanistan should have known that better than anyone else.”

In the past three years Nato and the US have more than doubled their troops in Afghanistan to 43,000. Almost half are American and last week Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander, General James L Jones, said that he was about 15% short of requirements. He said that failure to provide more men would make the mission longer and more costly.

Despite months of lobbying by Britain and the US, Foreign Office officials say it is extremely unlikely that the two-day summit in the Latvian capital will produce more troops. Countries are particularly reluctant to commit to the turbulent south where British and Canadian forces have suffered heavy casualties.

Aurakzai said: “Nato are ignoring the realities on the ground. The reason Taliban numbers have swelled is because moderates are joining the militants.

“It is no longer an insurgency but a war of Pashtun resistance exactly on the model of the first Anglo-Afghan war.”

“Then too [in 1839-42] initially there were celebrations. The British built their cantonment and brought their wives and sweethearts from Delhi and didn’t realise that in the meantime the Afghans were getting organised to rise up. This is exactly what Afghans are doing today and what they did against the Soviets.”

He added: “The British should have known better. No country in the world has a better understanding of the Afghan psyche and very little has changed there in the past couple of centuries.”

Rather than fighting, he says, the only answer is to talk to the Taliban. Over the past few months he has negotiated a series of peace deals in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

“This is the only way forward,” he said. “There will be no military solution, there has to be a political solution. How many more lives have to be lost before people realise it’s time for dialogue?”

Nato commanders have questioned Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror, claiming it is providing a safe haven and training for Taliban. Aurakzai dismissed the criticism.

“We are doing far more than the whole coalition put together,” he said. Pakistan had 80,000 troops in border areas — more than twice as many as Nato — and had lost about 750 soldiers, more than the entire coalition.

“It pains me to hear people accusing us of allowing border crossing,” he said. “We’re physically manning the border — our troops are sitting there on the zero line . . . Damn it, you also have a responsibility. Go sit on the border, fight like soldiers instead of sitting in your bases.

“The Americans say they can see even a goat on a hillside with their electronic surveillance, so why don’t they tell us where crossings are taking place and we will plug those gaps and kill those people?

“Either they [Nato] are trying to hide their own weaknesses by levelling allegations at Pakistan or they are refusing to admit the facts.”

Aurakzai said that Nato had failed to achieve any of its objectives. “Why did the coalition come to Afghanistan? To find Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Omar and the Taliban; for democracy, reconstruction and development, and [to] leave a stable Afghanistan which wouldn’t be vulnerable to terrorists.

“All very noble, but tell me which one of those objectives have been achieved? I went to Kabul in September and they are all living in a big bunker with no control over Afghanistan. There’s no law and order. The insurgency has become far worse . . . is that a success?”

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