President Obama is expected to lay out his broader approach to the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan this week, following a strategic review he ordered upon taking office. Whatever approach he takes, one critical piece must be an attempt to bring in more moderate elements of the Taliban.
"Wait, what?! That Taliban," you ask?
Yes. Let me explain. Violence continues to increase in Afghanistan, and the government there slowly loses control of areas that had previously been secured. Further, those areas that never were secured in the border region with Pakistan continue to be safe havens for al Qaeda. And so, a hard truth has become even more apparent - there is no military solution to Afghanistan, as there was no military solution in Iraq.
That isn't to say that military force isn't a component of a solution, as VoteVets.org's Vice Chair Brandon Friedman has argued on here before. Our military, and the militaries of our allies, are crucial in protecting infrastructure that we've helped build in Afghanistan, and providing security and stability in areas we need to be able to close in on al Qaeda.
But that can only be one ingredient, like eggs or flour are only one ingredient when baking a cake. Humanitarian aid, economic help, political negotiating, and diplomacy are the other elements that have to be present. Otherwise, you end up with a pile of burned flour, or a pre-9/11-like haven for al Qaeda, whichever the case may be.
And so, when it comes to stabilizing the region as much as possible, and denying al Qaeda free ground, bringing in a wide range of players is a good idea, as long as they're willing to make concessions to have a seat at the table. There is precedent here for this kind of tactic - whether it was Sinn Fein / IRA being brought into a power sharing agreement in Northern Ireland, or the FMLN negotiating a truce in El Salvador's Civil War, and transforming itself from a bunch of guerrillas into a political party (which recently won the nation's elections). And, of course, there was the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, where former insurgents flipped against the group that called itself "al Qaeda in Iraq," and joined the government.
In Afghanistan, there's evidence that there could be elements of the Taliban who would sit down and enter into an agreement. They would be brought into the halls of government, and be given some kind of amnesty, while they would aid us in strangling al Qaeda.
Indeed it's an idea that seems to be gaining steam. In a March 7th interview with the New York Times, President Obama said while he didn't want to prejudge the strategic review, he was open to the idea, and felt General Petraeus was open to the idea as well. The very next day, General Petraeus expressed support for the idea at the Heritage Foundation, saying, "If there are people who are willing to reconcile (with the government), then that would be a positive step in some of these areas that have actually been spiraling downward."
"The key there is making sure that all of that is done in complete coordination, with complete support of the Afghan government," he added.
As if on cue, President Karzai of Afghanistan opened the doors to negotiations. "As I have called upon Mullah Omar Taliban leader many times, I call upon the others, Taliban members too, that they should come back to their country, rebuild their country, they are welcome," President Karzai said.
All the pieces are there for the president to propose this as a major part of his approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan; now he must do so. It would finally shift much of the burden off of our troops in the region, who have been asked to do so much with so little. And, along with reopening the dialogue with Iran and other regional players, it would give us the best shot at finally doing what we should have done when the previous president decided to take a five-plus-year detour in Iraq.
Crossposted at VetVoice.com