Wednesday 30 June 2010

Four events leading in one direction

President Karzai's sacking of his interior minister and the head of Afghanistan's intelligence service, the possible extradition of Mullah Barodar from Pakistan to Kabul, the rumoured talks between the Karzai government and the Haqqani network and the resignation of General McChrystal. Four events that may be connected.
President Karzai is taking seriously the mandate he was given two weeks ago at the Peace jirga in Kabul to negotiate with the Taliban with a view to striking a deal for the reintegration and reconciliation of its fighters. His emissaries have already made it clear to the Pakistan military that they will be allowed to play a role in the endgame he hopes will end the fighting and they can probably smell a deal.
It was for this reason that Karzai decided to sack the interior minister and intelligence chief immediately following the Peace jirga. Both men are regarded by the Taliban (and Pakistan) as obstacles to negotiations, preferring instead a strategy based on destroying the organisation.
Hence the suggestions now circulating in Kabul and Islamabad that Barodar - and other senior Taliban leaders now in prison in Pakistan - will be brought back to Afghanistan, where Karzai hopes they will play a role in reaching out to sections of the Taliban leadership.
Hence too the talks with the Haqqanis. They are under the patronage of Pakistan's ISI intelligence service and would do nothing without their backing. Whilst it may not be true that Sirajuddin Haqqani himself made it to Kabul last week, it is likely that a more junior member of the family was present. (More on the Haqqanis can be found in a briefing note issued by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War on Monday).
Nor is this the only attempt to reach out to the fighters in the east of the country. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami fighters have already met with the president and negotiations continue.
And so was McChrystal's resignation simply a matter of the general making a stupid mistake? Hardly. He is bitterly opposed to a negotiated solution to the fighting and was intent on breaking the back of the insurrection before considering negotiations. He had already told President Obama that this strategy would require more time and that the US forces were unlikely to be able to begin withdrawal by June next year. These views are increasingly out of line with the White House, where Obama's political reputation will stand or fall on his ability to keep his promise to begin withdrawing US troops by then. If McChrystal couldn't deliver this promise, then he had to go. He simply decided that he was not going to go quietly. Holbrooke and Eikenberry, the US special envoy and ambassador to Afghanistan respectively, may also feel they cannot support Karzai's policy and they too may make an early exit.
What has prompted Obama to back away from his general and to allow Karzai to explore his way of doing things? Probably the offensive in Marjah. Despite all the hype, the much-trumpeted offensive - and the now-aborted early entry into Kandahar - have been disastrous. Resistance continues in this small town and if the full might of the US and Coalition military cannot solve that problem, what chance of an overall military victory?

No comments: