On War #278: The Afghan Advantage

By William S. Lind
October 15, 2008

As the military situation in Afghanistan deteriorates, there may be at least the possibility of better news on the political front. Nightwatch for October 7 reported that

Multiple news services have reported meetings hosted by Saudi Arabian King Abdallah between representatives of the Kabul government and the Taliban. Both Taliban and Afghan government spokesmen have denied that the talks were official. Both have acknowledged that talks occurred…Mediated talks between enemies accompanied by denials always signify the first step toward power sharing.

Intervening powers seldom if ever win Fourth Generation wars militarily, though they may lose them militarily. Rather, if they win, which means they witness the re-emergence of a state, they do so politically.

Here we see what might be called the “Afghan Advantage.” Unlike most Fourth Generation situations, including Iraq in Afghanistan we face one predominant enemy, the Taliban. That means we have someone to negotiate with who can actually deliver, and can do so on a country-wide scale.

Usually, any “deal” in a 4GW environment can only be local. The local sheik, clan leader, gang leader or militia captain can deliver only in his own back yard. Foreign occupiers must try to assemble, then maintain, a fragile, endlessly complex network of local deals, most of which tend to unravel. Ceasing to juggle leads not to stability but to the collapse of all deals and a return to chaos. That is one reason why occupiers find they cannot get out.

The situation in Afghanistan is more favorable. If we can make a deal with the Taliban, they can enforce it throughout most of the country. They can speak for the Pashtun, the people with whom we are at war. We can get out without Afghanistan falling back into chaos. The Taliban have shown they can govern, even to the point of shutting down the opium trade.

The action of the Saudi government in sponsoring talks between Mr. Karzai’s regime and the Taliban is something the U.S. and NATO should welcome and support. As quickly as we can without upsetting the applecart, the U.S. should also start to talk with the Taliban.

As NightWatch has indicated, the obvious direction of the talks should be toward some sort of power-sharing. That will only be a temporary arrangement; the Pashtun, Uzbeks and Tajiks will sort out their differences in the usual way, by fighting.

But an Afghan coalition government that includes the Taliban could give the U.S. and NATO what they need, an opportunity to get out. It is not too difficult to envision how such a government might be put together. The Taliban would get some seats in the cabinet in Kabul and control over the provinces they regard as their homeland. They would promise not to invite al Qaeda to set up new bases in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda now has no need for Afghan bases, since it has better ones in Pakistan, the country which is its current strategic focus. Mr. Karzai would go, much to his own relief, no doubt, perhaps to be replaced by a restored monarchy. The monarchy was popular in Afghanistan, and would be accepted by most Afghans as a legitimate government.

Pipe dreams of a democratic, secular, modern Afghanistan would vanish, as pipe dreams always do. The U.S. and NATO would have gotten out of Afghanistan without suffering an obvious defeat. In the history of Afghan wars, that is the best outcome an invader can hope for.

As Churchill said, “Better “jaw, jaw” than “war, war.”

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Direct line: 703 837-0483

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