Reconciliation in Afghanistan?

In the run-up to the national elections scheduled for Thursday in Afghanistan, all the major candidates have talked about the need for reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government as a means of ending the insurgency that is plaguing the country.  President Hamid Karzai’s opponents have accused him of pursuing that course half-heartedly and promised that they would make greater efforts to co-opt Taliban forces.

The Obama administration has said that the US will try to bring “moderate” Taliban who are willing to lay down their arms into the legitimate political system, while continuing to fight the elements of the Taliban most closely associate with Al Qaeda; in a piece for Slate magazine published on March 9 of this year, Christopher Hitchens derisively describes this strategy as attempting to separate “the moderate extremists from the really extreme extremists,” and warned against ceding territory to the Taliban as part of any peace agreement (http://www.slate.com/id/2213246/).

In an op-ed piece published yesterday in the New York Times, Selig Harrison argues that ending the Taliban insurgency will be nearly impossible as long as Tajiks hold an inordinate amount of power in the Afghan government relative to Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and a historic rival of the Tajiks (
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/17/opinion/17harrison.html).

In an op-ed piece published today in the New York Times titled “Land of 10,000 Wars,” Ganesh Sitaraman observes that the insurgency is not merely a Taliban-led effort with a single aim, but a much more complex problem with many different factions fighting for many different reasons (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/17/opinion/17iht-edsitaraman.html?_r=2&ref=global).  If that is the case, then negotiating a peace agreement with the insurgents will be much more difficult than some political figures imagine.

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