Newspapers and online media outlets are filled with stories at the end of the year about the two-day exploratory peace talks just concluded in France.
Let us look closely:
On Dec. 20, according to The Wall Street Journal, representatives of the Taliban, Hezbi-i-Islami (The Islamic Party), the Afghan government, and the Northern Alliance, met at the Chateau de la Tour, in Chantilly, outside of Paris for the third time this year to see if they could bring peace to Afghanistan.
The first such meeting, which was more low-key, was held in Kyoto on June 28 and organized by Doshisha University. It is not clear at the moment what role the U.S. might have played in these talks.
I smiled when I read that the meetings were at the Chateau de la Tour. It is ironic that the Taliban -- who are waging a class war as much as a religious, ethnic war, and brother war -- would agree to meet in a chateau, a symbol of the aristocracy with its manicured lawns and high black wrought iron fence.
Were these talks serious? Will they lead to peace? More immediately, will they lead to the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is being held captive by the Taliban since June 2009? No one seems to know. The Wall Street Journal recently quoted Hajji Din Mohammad, a participant in the talks: "It is better to know the Taliban's views directly, from themselves, so that we can exchange our views and reach our decisions." Din Mohammad, whom I have known for decades, is an honest man, close to Karzai (he chose him to head the Afghan High Peace Council), and one of the most influential men in the country with ties to the Haqqani Network and to Mullah Omar. They were part of the same Mujahideen network in the 1980s. If these men can come together, and if their lustful neighbors can be kept at bay, there is hope.
Who in the French government would have the clout among the Afghans to arrange this meeting? I suspect that could be Olivier Roy, who, while not a part of the government, is one of the world's foremost authorities on Afghanistan, and on political Islam. Those who follow Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East will be familiar with his writings. He went to Afghanistan as a student in the 1970s, knows the 1980s Mujahedeen leadership, and has the knowledge, ties and the respect needed.
The Taliban, which still calls itself the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," and still considers itself the only legitimate government of Afghanistan, said that its representatives were not there to negotiate, but to state their positions. I think the meetings were important simply because they took place. But while I smiled, I was saddened again to read in Tolo that Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasool told the Afghan Senate Thursday that "It is not clear which group the two Taliban members were representing." The Afghan government has "insufficient information about the background of these men. " Remember, in 2010, when David Petraeus was in command in Afghanistan, that the U.S. brought to Kabul and "paid a lot of money to," according to the BBC, a Taliban leader, Mohammad Mansour, who is said to have met with Karzai, and U.S. officials. He was later found to be an imposter.
To quote The New York Times: "The Taliban are cleverer than the Americans and our own intelligence service," said a senior Afghan official who is familiar with the case. "They are playing games." Others suspect that the fake Taliban leader, whose identity is not known, may have been dispatched by the Pakistani intelligence service, known by its initials, the ISI. Elements within the ISI have long played a 'double-game' in Afghanistan reassuring United States officials that they are pursuing the Taliban while at the same time providing support for the insurgents."
"The ISI is an integral part of the Pakistani Army," said Major Gen. N. Babar, interior minister to Benazir Bhutto, and who helped to create and train the Mujahedeen in 1973 and rode with the Taliban into Kabul in 1996.
The state of the war
The Obama Administration is anxious to extract itself from the Afghan quagmire. We are caught in the same trap into which we lured the U.S.S.R. in 1979. The U.S. has lost over 2,000 troops, and thousands more have been maimed. It has spent $600 billion. According to The Washington Post's Walter Pincus, it is going to cost $8.7 billion more just to bring U.S. materiel home.
Over 1,200 of those troops were killed after January 2010 when the surge began, according to Reuters/The Washington Post. The war continues, and as usual, the Afghans suffer most. According to The Associated Press, more than 110 Afghan National Army soldiers and 200 Afghan police are killed every month.
According to Reuters, the Department of Defense's biannual war assessment (covering April - September) said that enemy attacks are up one percent. There were 66 insider attacks, up from 43 in 2011. In July, there were "slightly more than 3,000 enemy initiated attacks," The Associated Press reported. There were 2,000 in July 2009. "Pakistan has contributed to U.S. interests while simultaneously falling short in others," it said. This is diplomatic-speak to say that while Pakistan is helping the U.S. it is fighting the U.S. at the same time. It continues to provide sanctuary for insurgents and declines to "interdict explosives (IED) materials that come across the border."
In spite of this, it was recently reported both in The New York Times and The Washington Post that the U.S. will pay $688 million to Pakistan to cover costs for the 140,000 Pakistani troops that it keeps along the Afghan - Pakistani border. Where are these 140, 000 troops? Before the surge, the U.S. had nearly 70,000 troops in Afghanistan and travelers in eastern Afghanistan saw U.S. convoys on highways, in villages, and in the countryside, as well as U.S. helicopters and hundreds of bases. I traveled at some length in different parts of the tribal areas, and never saw a Pakistani soldier -- only Frontier Scouts and border police.
On April 14, 1988, in Geneva, representatives of the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan signed, after years of talks, three bilateral agreements intended to end the 10-year old Afghan-Soviet war in Afghanistan. The U.S. and the Soviet Union signed a "Declaration on International Guarantees." These documents became known as the Geneva Accords. The last Soviet troops crossed the Friendship Bridge over the Amu Darya, from Afghanistan back to the Soviet Union 2/15/89. The Afghan Army continued the fight with Soviet financial help against the Pakistani-backed Mujahedeen. Al Qaeda which grew out of Afghan-Soviet war, joined the fight in greater numbers. This war, in a different guise, continues today.
Just substitute the Taliban for the Mujahedeen. Up in the mountains, there is no difference between the two. To them there is no difference between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. We are both infidel invaders. Should the U.S. care after the draw-down? Morally, yes -- for we helped to start this war and to turn Afghanistan into a warzone, which led to al Qaeda and the Taliban. But the U.S. public, ignorant of and not interested in this history, wants out. We want only to assure that al Qaeda does not return to use this land again as a base from which to launch attacks against the U.S.
In the beginning
To understand more fully, let's go back 65 years:
In 1947, the British, then ruling India, partitioned India, creating the Republic of India, and the mostly Muslim West Pakistan and East Pakistan -- nearly 1,000 miles apart. That same year, Afghanistan was the only country in the world to vote against Pakistan's admission to the U.N. It did not accept the Durand Line, the Afghan-Pakistani border drawn by the British, in 1893. Not one Afghan government, including the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan led by Mullah Omar, has ever accepted this border. Every Pashtun over the age of 10 knows that the Afghan border once ended at the Indus River, 80 miles inside Pakistan. Peshawar was once the winter home for Afghan royalty. Ahmed Shah Durrani, founder of modern Afghanistan in 1747, was born in Multan, in Pakistan today.
In 1948, Pakistan used Pashtun tribesmen, which it called "irregulars," from the tribal areas, as guerrilla fighters to attack Kashmir to try to make it part of West Pakistan. In 1973, the Pakistani military-trained Pashtuns -- among them Gulbadeen Hekmatyierwhose Islamist political party, Hezb-i-Islami sat at the table in Chantilly, who became the Mujahedeen, and later the Taliban -- all part of Pakistan's proxy Army to try to control Afghanistan; and the Pashtuns, who under Durrani, ruled all the way to Delhi, to achieve what it calls "strategic depth," so as not to be surrounded there by India, and to protect the Durand Line. The U.S., aligning itself with Pakistan, stated recently that it accepts the Durand Line.
Meanwhile, Pakistan uses young Pashtun men, brain-washed in its madrasahs, and cut off from their own culture to try to divide and thus conquer the Pashtuns and to kill U.S. soldiers. It has a tiger by the tail.
Marvin Weinbaum, former State Department official, wrote in a Foreign Policy blog on December 20: "In reality the Taliban have always resisted and resented being dictated to by Pakistan." He is right.
In 1970, West Pakistan lost East Pakistan, and thus half its country, in a disastrous civil war, which led to the creation of Bangladesh. For rock and roll fans, the creation of the help-the-world rock concerts, George Harrison's and Ravi Shankar's "Concert for Bangladesh," to help the children there.
It wants to make up for this disaster by controlling Afghanistan, through which, as stated here previously, it can establish trade routes to Sunni Central Asia. The U.S., in upgrading Afghanistan's highways, may have helped the Pakistanis.
Pakistan, which has a population of 180 million, the fifth-largest in the world, is growing and it needs water, which comes from India and Afghanistan. According to Time, Iran and Pakistan depend upon four of the five river basins that flow out of Afghanistan. It only uses 30 percent of the 57 billion cubic feet of war because it has no storage facilities and the water thus flows out of the country. This is why, I believe, the ISI killed the guard of the Machalgho Dam in Paktia Province, reported Time, and a Japanese engineer in 2007, who was surveying where to build a dam on the Kunar River.
Pakistan will sit at the negotiating table and will secure, with U.S. backing, an arrangement in its favor, as it did in Geneva. It knows that India, Iran and Russia will back their traditional allies, the Hazaras, and the Tajiks, once part of what was called the Northern Alliance, America's allies, against the Pashtuns. Pakistan is afraid that the Pasthun Taliban from their tribal areas, men who have never been conquered and never taxed, will align themselves with their cousins in Afghanistan. There are reports, according to David Ignatius of The Washington Post, that the British feel that the Taliban regret their ties to al Qaeda, which some have called "a bone in their throat." In my experience, no. The Taliban and al Qaeda today work together.
India, Pakistan's foe, has its own demands: that the Taliban must renounce al-Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution, according to The Times of India
There are intra-Afghan talks scheduled under U.N. direction in Turkmenistan in two months. There are Taliban waiting at their office in Doha, Qatar to restart direct negotiations with the U.S. There is reason to hope that President Obama, after his inauguration, will push to secure release of Sgt. Bergdahl. But the U.S. will need to release prisoners from Guantanamo to the Taliban in exchange, and there is no indication yet that Republicans in Congress will allow that.
Karzai is in a difficult place. The Taliban hate him -- this puppet, this imposter, whom they feel was foisted on them by the West. Karzai is largely looked down on in the U.S. (Obama refused to see him when he was in Afghanistan to visit the troops) because he seems on occasion to be anti-American and to side with the Taliban, calling them "brothers," and "sons of the soil of Afghanistan." All true, but, as The Wall Street Journal noted astutely, another leader, Shah Shuja, was enthroned by the British in 1839, also considered a puppet and he was slaughtered when they left. He, like Karzai, like Ahmed Shah Durrani, like Zahir Shah, the last king, until deposed in 1973, are all members of the Populzoi clan of the Durrani tribe--all Afghan royalty--of the Pashtun nation. The Taliban killed Karzai's father and they castrated and hanged Nagibullah, the president of Afghanistan, but also the former head of the East-German trained secret police, in 1992.
The Taliban come from the lowest ranks of Pashtun tribal culture. They -- through the power of Islam, the glue that has held Afghanistan together since the rise of the Mujahedeen -- know that with God on their side, the conquered and ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, and they want that power back. They continue to kill tribal leaders in Pakistan, all to destroy Pashtun tribal culture, and to replace it with the equality of Islam, under Taliban leadership, just as the Saud clan of Arabia, aligned with the zealous Wahhabis, destroyed the tribal culture, and thus their competition, to create Saudi Arabia in 1932.
In the 19th-century, the British said that "Hindustani fanatics" (Wahhabis) in the tribal zones of India, today Pakistan, were leading the war against them. Today, al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban, all nurtured by the ISI, continue to fight. Peace will not come soon to Afghanistan.
Panetta said recently at the Center for New American Policy, "The U.S. wants to finish the job right in Afghanistan. We are not going anywhere. Our commitment is long term and you (Taliban) cannot wait us out," according to The Associated Press. He later said that "al-Qaeda continues to show up in Afghanistan," as reported by Reuters.
India, Iran and Russia do not want the Taliban to return. With Afghanistan and the U.S. behind them, Pakistan will try to achieve peace. They will never succeed until they agree upon their border.
Karzai, who has a son, now has a daughter, called Malala. "There are now two Malalas, one is the Malala of Maiwand and then there is Malala Yousafzai, who was attacked for seeking education and so I hope my daughter too would be one of those Malalas to be educated and also to seek education for women."
The U.S. Army has created a 75-page draft of a manual for U.S. troops to help brace them for the "social cultural shock" of Afghanistan in an effort to stop insider attacks, according to The Wall Street Journal. Allen, said to be weakened because of investigation into his email correspondence with a Tampa socialite, has refused to sign off or to write an introduction.
William Dalrymple, the Delhi-based award-winning Scottish historian, and journalist, has written a new book, soon to be released, on the first British war in Afghanistan. It is titled "The Return of a King," about what was probably the West's greatest 19th-century imperial disaster, and about the British puppet Shah Shuja. It is a parable, according to two reviews I have read, of the U.S. failure in Afghanistan.
David Oliver Reline, 49, co-author of "Three Cups of Tea," with Greg Mortinson, committed suicide in November, RFE reported. Mortenson paid a $1 million fine and resigned from the Central Asia Institute, board, over "financial irregularities."