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Negotiating with the Taleban
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-08-05 10:00:37
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When the British and the Americans decided to start some kind of discussions with the Taleban, a Taleban military “code of conducts” book came out, to remind them of the real identity of the extremists - and that conducts with the devil can only cause harm. Every time I think or try to write something about the Taleban, there are two images overwhelming my mind. Whatever I do, they manage to make me angry. One is the image of the exploded Buddhist monument the size of a hill. The Taleban thought it to be provocative to the Muslims and they ignored the culture magnificence of the temple. The second is the angry, innocent faces of people with their heads in their hands during the first days of the Afghan UN expedition.

I’m sorry, but whatever I do or however tolerant I would like to be, I can’t avoid the disgust I feel.

The idea of negotiating with the more tolerant of the Taleban is not new; actually, the American President, Barack Obama, used it a lot during his campaign. However, it is new when it comes from the British, who have mainly held the Afghani frontier while the Americans fought the war in Iraq. Even if you may have issues with the Anglo-American alliance, there were so many others; from Finns to Greeks, who defended the peaceful background of the whole thing and the sincere wish to bring peace to the Afghan people. But in Afghanistan, peace has become a very complicated thing. The idea was that we’re going there to catch Bin Laden; destroy all the al-Qaeda strongholds and then deal with the Taleban leadership - in the sense that the local authorities will have to deal with them, since they were mainly an internal issue. In 2009, Bin Laden is still alive and at large, and the Taleban have gone from being an internal Afghan issue, to a continent nightmare, endangering peace in neighboring countries, especially to Pakistan.

The Taleban and their Mujahidin fighters became known after the Russian invasion, and I have to admit, with a little help of western propaganda, they attracted some level of sympathy in the west. It was sort of a David and Goliath fight, with Goliath being the mighty Russian bear; the traditional enemy of the west. And the cold war was not over yet at the time. Still, aside of any sympathy attraction, there was always a certain reservation towards them, since we often heard in the news about their brutality and the inhuman way they treated prisoners and captivated Russians. Then Glasnost came, and the world had other frontiers to look after, leaving
Afghanistan to become a chapter in the history books, as the Russian Vietnam, where the mighty met with some defense and disaster from the tiny. But the Taleban didn’t let us forget them, their atrocities continued and this time they targeted their very own compatriots. The religious veil remained as an excuse, but the drugs were there, and the crimes were there. Taleban war lords started looking at Pakistan, and after 9/11 they openly joined the terrorism frontier with Bin Laden as their best ally.

Apparently, Taleban and al-Qaeda became one and sometimes it was difficult to see the difference between them. After all, Bin Laden started enlisting fighters from the Mujahideen and the Taleban, most of them experienced in this sort of war. Then they started exporting their terrorism, first to Pakistan and then everywhere else where they could find the right ground, for example in Somalia or in Sudan - always under the cover of their strictly Muslim believes. I’m sorry to say that and I’m aware of how little tolerance it might show, but nowadays the Taleban and their followers are very aware of what they are and what they represent. They practice the only trade they know well, terror!

There might be some among the Taleban that can see clearer, that can realize the damage they are doing. Perhaps for some of them, the only thing they want is to be free in a free country, without invaders or protectors; perhaps they just want to practice their beliefs. But how far are these people prepared to go - to get comfortable enough to sit around the same table and negotiate? And is it worth it for the Americans or the British to play the role of this negotiator, since they have become the excuse of the continuing atrocities? Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, is not accepted. Not only by the Taleban, but by a lot of the Afghans, since in their minds he represents either a past they want to forget - and definitely leave behind with old kings and emperors - or he has become the Anglo-American’s servant. In other words he’s a traitor in their mind. The only chance Afghans have to find a solution for their complex situation is to find the solution themselves, without any outsider advising or helping. To do this they need somebody, an Afghan, who can be a mediator for both sides. If this happened, there might be some hope for the more tolerant side of the Taleban to listen. Anything else sounds like a wishful thought or a quick solution to bury a problem that is there to stay.

As far as the latest Taleban achievement, the military “code of conducts” book - it sounds like a horror joke! The code advice tells the Taleban fighters - while they are targeting a group with suicide bombs - to try and avoid …many innocent casualties. Just kill them a little, not too much! Or, another part I found terrifying, "all Mujahideen must do their best to avoid civilian deaths and injuries and damage to civilian property." And "should refrain" from disfiguring people, such as the severing of ears, nose and lips. Mujahideen must be well behaved, and treat people properly, in order to get closer to the hearts of civilian Muslims." Definitely scary!

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