Breaking news: CNN is reporting that President Obama has decided to take 30,000 troops out of Afghanistan over the next
year eighteen months, including 10,000 by the end of this year. Military commanders had requested that he limit this first draw down to as little as 5,000, so this step was unexpected.
There are 100,000 or so US troops in that country, so even this drawdown will leave many there, and, indeed, their numbers will be higher than during most of the war. But symbolically, Obama’s move indicates that he is now moving to wind up US involvement in that war. It is a testimony to what a trauma the September 11 attacks were that the US public has put up with this, the longest war in American history, for so long. But opinion polling shows that most of the public now wants out, including 60 percent of Republicans. And the Republican presidential candidates are beginning to run against the war.
This local ABC News report covers the controversies, and notes ominously that there is no talk of pulling out US drones from the region.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan revealed last Saturday that the US has been holding secret direct talks with some of the Taliban leadership.
For how things look from the other side, see this interview with Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban leader, in a Hungarian newspaper, translated by the USG Open Source Center. Zaeef, incredibly, represents the Taliban as not interested in power. He is challenged in the article by Afghan Haroun Mir, who doubts that the Taliban would ever hold another presidential election if they grew powerful again.
Former Taliban Official Tells Hungarian Daily Taliban Want To Teach, Not Govern
Report on interview with Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, by Eszter Zalan in Kabul; date not given: “‘The Taliban Will Not Give up the Fight — The Taliban Opposition Can Be Included in the Power at the Cost of Dangerous Compromises”
Tuesday, June 21, 2011 …
Document Type: OSC Translated Text…
I am not sure that anything is happening — Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, who was imprisoned in Guantanamo for four years after 2001, told Nepszabadsag in connection with the talks with the Taliban.
Today he is giving advice regarding the Taliban in the protection of guards supplied by the Afghan government, in a house in Kabul provided for him by the Karzai cabinet. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was the first to confirm at the weekend that the United States and other countries were in direct contact with the Taliban.
According to Zaeef, the West is spreading contradictory news on the talks to create mistrust among the Taliban, and “because the European people have become tired,” and do not want to continue the war. “The Europeans want change. With the help of the news on the talks, the leaders want to create vain hopes that an alternative exists,” Zaeef says, who also supports a negotiated solution, but states: “The Taliban will definitely not become a political party while the US troops are in Afghanistan. I am certain that they will not give up the fight.”
According to Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban are not interested in politics
Zaeef claims that power is not important for the Taliban. “Perhaps they will go home and teach in the madrasas (religious schools),” he presumes about the period after the settlement. He says that even in the 1990s they came to power out of necessity because the whole country had become destabilized during the civil war, warlords were domineering everywhere, and a tough and dictatorial central power was needed.
“The Taliban brought security and stability. But they are not interested in politics. When they are in power, they cannot teach the people, even though this is more important for them. The Taliban, as experts of Islam, have a natural power within society. They will lose this power if they start to work in government,” Zaeef says, admitting that something like this happened in the 1990s. According to Zaeef, who is now teaching in a religious school, the Taliban do not want to overthrow the Karzai government, only to reform it. He does not say much about his own role, all we know is that his telephone is tapped by the Afghan secret service (among others).
Zaeef refuses to admit that any kind of progress has taken place in Afghanistan in the past 10 years.
“A US general once sat here opposite me, and asked the same, namely why do I not accept progress? I asked him what he was talking about. Every day Afghan children are being killed, so what makes you think that it is enough to build roads in exchange? And you expect that I accept this so-called progress?,” he says, and reiterates the theory popular in Afghanistan that the Americans are only present in this Central-Asian country owing to the mineral resources.
As a matter of fact, in his book entitled “My Life With the Taliban” — also available in English –, and also during the interview Zaeef insists on the romantic image of his fellow Taliban as freedom fighters. He rejects everything that would attack this image with muddled arguments. He explains that the only reason women have been pushed in the background is because men bear a greater responsibility in Islam, therefore, the job opportunities have had to be provided for them. The 1,500-year old Buddha statues had to be destroyed out of political revenge: in response to the fact that fanatic Hindus had destroyed the Babri Mosque in India in 1992.
It is to be seen whether too many human rights will have to be given up for creating peace with Taliban who think similarly to Zaeef. Especially as, since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s February speech, laying down the weapons and accepting the Afghan Constitution have not been conditions for the Taliban, only a break with the terrorist organization Al-Qa’ida. To make it easier for the Taliban (and Washington), the United Nations has recently separated the black lists afflicting the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida member s.
“I hope that, rather than making a pact, a real peace process will take place,” political analyst Haroun Mir said, voicing the concern of many Afghans. According to him the process so far is not transparent and it does not involve the entire Afghan society. In his opinion, the Taliban know that they would only lose in a democratic process, therefore, they will probably want to place the Afghan political system on entirely new bases. “I do not believe that they would set a presidential candidate, nor candidates for parliamentary deputies,” he says with a slight smile. Although even the fact of the talks has not yet been confirmed, the Taliban hope for obtaining more power than this, and no one knows what kind of promise would force them to lay down the weapons. According to Mir, if the Taliban do not lay down their weapons, they could become like the Hezbollah in Lebanon: they play democracy, but they shoot when they cannot get what they want. Mir also recalls that there is no agreement without Pakistan.”