In non-shoe-throwing news, Anand Gopal of the Christian Science Monitor does some great reporting about something called the Afghan Social Outreach Program, which is the Karzai government’s attempt at fracturing the insurgency and cleaving the "small-T" Taliban away from Al Qaeda. This would complement the top-down talks between Karzai and the Taliban:
According to officials at the Afghan Social Outreach Program, part of an Afghan government initiative to strengthen local governance, a new body is being formed to reconcile such fighters with the government that will use the promise of government jobs and cash inducements. This body will replace an already existing government organization that many say is corrupt and ineffective.
The second approach will be to sow divisions in the insurgency’s leadership and isolate elements close to Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda and the Taliban have differing strategies: Al Qaeda’s policy of global warfare has brought it into confrontation with the Pakistani government, while the Afghan Taliban are on good terms with Islamabad and restrict its fight to Afghanistan.
There is, of course, no guarantee of this program working. But the Monitor reports that there are some indications of potential fractures — for instance, a letter sent in the spring from longtime warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to Karzai saying that Hekmatyar (a truly disgusting human being who enjoys such niceties at throwing acid at women’s uncovered faces) might be getting too old to fight. Also, the Monitor says that follow-on talks between Karzai and the Taliban could be hosted in Dubai, but it’s right now too soon to tell.
Meanwhile, via Noah Shachtman, I see that Sarah Chayes, a former NPR Afghanistan correspondent who now runs a business in Kandahar, has an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post arguing against any power-sharing deal with the Taliban — big T or small T:
The solution to this problem is not to bring the perpetrators of the daily horrors we suffer in Kandahar to the table to carve up the Afghan pie. (For no matter how we package the idea of negotiating with the Taliban, that’s what Afghans are sure it will amount to: cutting a power-sharing deal.)
She’s right on that front: any deal is going to be a power-sharing deal. But her alternative solution is kind of confusing:
The solution is to call to account the officials we installed here beginning in 2001 — to reach beyond the power brokers to ordinary Afghan citizens and give their grievances a fair hearing. If the complaints prove to be well founded, Western officials should press for redress, using some of their enormous leverage. The successful mentoring program under which military personnel work side-by-side with Afghan National Army officers should be expanded to the civilian administration. Western governments should send experienced former mayors, district commissioners and water and health department officials to mentor Afghans in those roles.
I don’t wish to appear indifferent to the grievances of ordinary Afghans. They should be listened to in any case, and I tried to solicit their perspectives when I was in Afghanistan in September. But I’m left unclear as to how Chayes’ proposal would reduce or end the insurgency. Is the idea to out-governance the Taliban?
Crossposted to The Streak.