RUSI is a reputable organisation with its feet firmly on the ground and contacts with the highest decision making bodies. Hence its research that the Taliban may be willing to negotiate peace has to be taken seriously. But the spin on the news is somewhat reflective of where RUSI and much of the USA-UK have been in the last decade. The real news is not that the Taliban are willing to change, but that the USA-UK may be willing to negotiate.
The Taliban, despite their uncomplimentary image of merciless fanatic killers, are in fact a pragmatic lot. Well the Pushtun tribes they come from are. Compromises within reason are a way of life in these tribes. Their decision making is consensual rather than democratic. Consensus requires compromises.
The USA's response after 9/11 was a demand that Taliban surrender sovereignty, hand over Al Qaeda (AQ) along with Bin Laden and allow US army to inspect all 'training' camps inside Afghanistan. The Taliban response was as expected. They refused to surrender sovereignty. They refused to hand over 'guests'. They demanded evidence of Bin Laden's involvement and suggested talks. A guest is treated with more respect than a family person among Pushtoons. Bin Laden had helped the Taliban in their struggles and was therefore a 'special' guest.
The Taliban also said that they had no hand and no interest in AQ's global war. AQ's war was not Taliban's war. They even condemned 9/11.
Any person who had studied the Pushtun would have advised the US-UK that there is a way to do business with them and it is certainly not war. All that the Americans had to do was park a few warships in the Arabian Sea and get a promise from the Taliban that AQ would not be allowed to launch any attacks or propaganda against American interests from Taliban controlled soil, then gradually negotiate Bin Laden's surrender. The threat of war would have worked better than war itself. I even wrote a piece on this a few years ago.
But then superpowers like to show muscle over common sense. The US and UK saw it cakewalk to bombing Taliban out of office, parachuting in to arrest Bin Laden and makeover Afghanistan in the image of a western modern democracy within a couple of years. Easy, peasy with Rumsfeld in charge.
But fate delivered a different hand. True to tradition, the Taliban disappeared from seats of power and regrouped in their mountains. Relentlessly and mercilessly, Taliban started upsetting the best laid plans. They have been helped by the powerful Pakistan intelligence, ISI, which nurtured them the in the first place.
The ISI wants continuing dollar aid for Pakistan's fragile economy and security against India. The Taliban want to run their version of Islamic rule in Afghanistan.
As for development, women's rights, girls schools etc, these would have happened in time anyway. Most Islamic countries who resisted equal opportunities for women, have changed. Except those who have dollars gushing from the sand (oil). It is economics. Let us not forget that the biggest change in European attitudes towards women joining the workplace happened during the world war when women were needed in factories and offices. Even the Ayotollahs in Iran saw economic sense in women working than sitting at home. It would have been a matter of time before the Taliban, needing all the modcons, weapons and luxuries, had realised the need for the other half of the potential workforce to be schooled. Economic development always happens, look at Vietnam.
RUSI's findings, therefore, show no real shift in the position of the Taliban, except that the Taliban have acceded to a few neutered US bases in Afghanistan after ten years of war with borrowed dollars from the Federal Reserve.
The Taliban have said they want Karzai out. Secondly they will form their own constitution. And that they have no truck with AQ, which they never had. All that has changed is that since they have not been in a position to treat the AQ as guests, the issue of protecting the guest no longer arises.
9/11 had nothing to do with the Taliban, however mad or bad they are. RUSI's so called research, whether it admits or not, is paving the way for an honourable exit. Pity that the US-UK may have learnt a lot about dealing with Taliban by dusting down those old colonial records and books on the Pathans instead of the hard way through blood, sweat and dollars.
All that is needed is; promise aid to Pakistan for the next decade, give Afghanistan back to a Taliban led coalition and kick Karzai out by publicising his Government's corruption and find another war to concentrate on. Job done. Don't need research for that.
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