MARK ALMOND: Making deals with the Taliban may be our only hope moving forward in Afghanistan
The retreat is almost over, the humiliation complete. Now the question facing Western leaders, something that would have been unthinkable a few months ago, is: Can we make deals with the Taliban?
Many will still find it inconceivable that the West could even consider negotiating with the heirs of the barbarians who made the atrocity of 9/11 possible.
Given that the Taliban have historically supported Al Qaeda’s terrorism and, in recent days, their brutal repression beyond the view of the Western media, it seems completely immoral to have anything to do with the new government in Afghanistan.
But as unpopular as it may be in the traumatic aftermath of the debacle in the West, we must try to salvage what we can from the disaster.
We must negotiate with them to try to save the lives of those poor souls we have left behind, and to prevent the country from once again becoming a haven and training ground for terrorists who want to attack the West.
As unpopular as it may be in the traumatic aftermath of the debacle in the West, we must try to salvage what we can from the disaster. Pictured: Taliban fighters control the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul
Of course, after our humiliating retreat, our leverage is very weak. Threats of sanctions and other financial strangleholds could simply encourage the Taliban to deal with the Chinese and Russians, who would gladly take advantage of any new influence they might gain. And the fact is that the Taliban may not want to do business with us at all.
Still, there are incentives for the new regime in Kabul to be less relentless in its approach to dealing with the West than its predecessors 20 years ago.
One of the things that led to an outpouring of popular support from the corrupt former government to the Taliban was the economic situation of so many Afghans.
The drought has left millions dependent on international food aid. By allowing that aid to continue flowing out of the West and the prospect of getting Afghanistan’s money into foreign banks, the Taliban is providing an incentive to stop hardliners looking to confront the world.
We also have a common enemy. The Taliban detest the even tougher group of Islamic State – or Isis-K –. Taliban fighters executed the local Isis-K leader when they imprisoned him in Bagram prison, and they are all too aware that the attack on the Kabul airport was aimed at destabilizing the Taliban and killing them. of the American soldiers and letting Afghans leave there.
Kabul is already aware of a massive refugee crisis on its borders, particularly with Pakistan, a country the Taliban has helped. Pictured: Members of the British and US military take part in the evacuation of people from Kabul
Sure, there are horrific fundamentalist dogmas shared by both the Taliban and Isis-K, but the new Taliban leaders seem keen to avoid the mistakes of their predecessors in 2001. While Isis-K wants to re-use Afghanistan as a base to attack the West, the Taliban want to avoid provoking another Western intervention.
The Taliban are well aware of what has changed since 2001. Since then, more than half of the population has been born. The younger generation grew up loathing and unwilling to fight for the corrupt Ghani regime, but these youths have also been socialized through cell phones and social media rather than in rigid Islamic madrassas.
Preventing hordes of disaffected, unemployed youth from becoming a problem is a priority. Allowing some of these unfortunate people to emigrate is one way to keep an eye on things while assuring Western concerns.
Many will still find it inconceivable that the West could even consider negotiating with the heirs of the barbarians who made the atrocity of 9/11 possible. Pictured: The World Trade Center in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001
Kabul is already aware of a massive refugee crisis on its borders, especially with Pakistan – a country the Taliban has helped nurture – which this weekend said the West must work with the new Afghan government to ensure it “stays moderate” .
The fact is that the West has to get involved. We must make the best use of the few roots we have – such as aid money and diplomatic recognition – to reduce the terrorist threat.
Since our diplomats have long dealt with fundamentalist regimes such as Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be able to adapt to the new standards of the Taliban. It’s depressing to admit defeat, but swallowing our pride can still save some of the horror.
Mark Almond is director of The Crisis Research Institute, Oxford.