Magazine article The Spectator

End Game

Magazine article The Spectator

End Game

Article excerpt

Britain has been at war in Afghanistan for over a decade. Many Britons now take it for granted that its country's intervention in Afghanistan has failed and when Nato troops pull out in 2014 they will leave behind a volatile and unsettled state that could easily plunge into a civil war - much worse than what western forces inherited back in 2001.

No doubt the chance of Afghanistan fracturing in the hands of a corrupt, incompetent government, a well armed and motivated Taleban opposition in the south and ethnic warlordism in the north is high. Rapacious neighbours, especially Pakistan and Iran, may regenerate their proxy wars for influence, as they did in the 1990s. Al-Qa'eda is still active in many parts of the world.

Taleban attack s against Nato force s over the summer months have increased by 11 per cent compared to the same period last year. There are more than 100 Taleban attacks each month, and in July 46 US and Nato troops were killed. There has been no respite in the fasting month of Ramadan, when there is usually a fighting lull. Contrary to western leaders' claims, the tide of war is not receding.

Even more dangerous and disheartening is the Taleban re-emergence in Helmand and Kandahar, the southern provinces and Taleban heartland that were supposed to have been swept clean by US and British offensives over the years and where countless British soldiers have been killed. The USled counter-insurgency war to win hearts and minds is being trumped by the Taleban's tactic of divide and rule by terror.

The enormous sums spent on development over a decade have still not created a self-sustaining economy, which could provide jobs for an Afghan youth bulge - 70 per cent of the population is under 25. What has emerged instead is a corrupt, wasteful, inefficient aid-delivery system which only reinforces the Afghan dependency on foreign handouts.

Nato is determined to leave by 2014 and is obsessed with the so-called transition - the handing over of military duties to the fledgling, under-trained and still illiterate Afghan security forces which are already heavily penetrated by the Taleban.

Yet a meltdown into civil war is still avoidable if Nato pursues the right strategies in the next 18 months.

The key to a future peace is not the military transition - the Afghan army on its own could never sustain the present level of fighting against the Taleban - but a political transition.

The Taleban are just as fearful of a civil war as other Afghans are because they know that, unlike in the 1990s, they could not win it. Government forces would retreat into a Fortress Kabul strategy - fortifying major cities and roads while leaving the countryside in the hands of the Taleban. The northern warlords are re-arming and would halt any Taleban push north of Kabul far better than they did in the 1990s.

After seven rounds of secret US-Taleban negotiations brokered by Qatar and Germany, the Taleban suspended further talks last January. The on-off dialogue was stalled and tied in knots not so much by Taleban intransigence but by the infighting and bureaucratic turf wars between the US Departments of State, Defence and the CIA, while Nato allies have been virtually ignored.

In the past few months the Taleban has strongly signalled that they want a resumption of talks. …

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